12/05/2016

I went to Take 6's Christmas concert yesterday evening. It was an exciting experience on more than just one level.

Me and dad, we had to leave our conference's winter meeting early to make it back to Tallinn in time for the concert. We had spent the weekend in a resort centre in the middle of woods, sitting through a lot of long meetings and worship services, preaching, giving/hearing reports, and socialising. I was so absorbed in all of this, the concert came as if from a different universe. I did not even have time to change my clothes when we got to Tallinn so I sat in the concert hall with my jeans, in the middle of people wearing their best clothes and purses and jewellery. I realised the thing was a massive social event for the bold and beautiful of this city (or maybe even the country?). Musicians, politicians, all sorts of celebrities had made their way to the concert. And I sat there before the concert began, looking around me, and I realised that for me it was different. It wasn't a public event for me. It wasn't the main concert of Winter Jazz 2016. It wasn't just a place to enjoy good quality music. Or to be fashionable and let other see the best of my wardrobe. For me it was one more precious chance to look back and bring out the best of memories from my childhood and teenage years. Because non of these fancy people around me could have known that I have listen to Take 6's music so enormously much it has become a part of my being, the soundtrack of my life. They couldn't have known that for more than 15 years one of our family's Friday evening Sabbath tradition was to listen to Take 6's first album (I still do that on those extremely rare occasions I get to spend Friday evenings at my dad's). Or that I used to listen to Join the Band and So Cool albums obsessively as a teenager. Or that I would start listening to their Christmas albums as soon as the first snow arrived (which often was in the end of October - I remember brother K. being really upset with me and fed up with those albums lol). Or the occasion when I was in Newbold a few months after my mum had passed away and I was sitting in a car with J. and S. and would start weeping uncontrollably when they suddenly happened to play Grandma's Hands.

This was a personal thing last night. Every song was personal. Every memory.

One bad thing about knowing their music so well is that I also know their arrangements by heart. I sat and listened to them sing last night and I couldn't help but pick out all those places where they've changed the arrangement or missed the perfection of the harmony or just couldn't hit the highest notes any longer. They're old. They really are old. Their voices don't fit together any more the way they used to. They barely touch the songs from their first (and best) album - the album you need young voices for. But they are still brilliant and I admire them for what they're doing. They're still my heroes, less so musically but more so personally - for staying true to their passion and calling throughout all these decades.

They also came to say hi to the audience and sign CDs after the concert. It was the first time I had seen them do that. So me and dad waited patiently until the bigger crowd was gone because I really had it on my heart to go and talk to them just a little. I also got their autographs but this means surprisingly little to me. (Oh, the teenage years are gone!) But what I really appreciated was the chance to actually tell them about this soundtrack of life's thing and about our Friday evening tradition. Their eyes went round and big and Alvin gave me a bear hug when he heard this. I couldn't speak for long because there were still people queuing up after me, there would have been more things I would have liked to say, but Alvin said, We'll continue this conversation when we meet again on the other side of Jordan. I agreed. And that really touched my heart. We share the same hope, and we share the same faith. We'll speak again.

It all felt a little bit like a farewell. I'm sure this was their last time in Estonia. I really don't think they would come back. And that's ok. I'll speak to them again on the other side. When Grandma's Hands song doesn't make me weep any more.

12/02/2016

I don't travel much, for different reasons. First, I don't need to, secondly, I don't enjoy traveling alone (I have two very clear memories of moments when I promised myself solemnly never to go anywhere alone again - in Milan's old town and in Venice; I hated being in those marvelous places alone), and third, it's usually annoyingly expensive. But I have already three trips lined up for the next year. It's rather unusual. But what's more, each of these trips represent something that has real value and significance for me. So I am hoping these trips will clarify some things in my life, maybe even lead me to the right direction.

I'm going to Newbold again - now that's the only trip I can call 'annual'. I just have to breathe Newbold air at least once a year. My English friends - I'll be in Newbold and/or London on April 4th-11th. If you're around, do come say hello, I'd love it! My purpose of going, well, firstly, just to be around the places I used to be madly in love with. I still hold the view that these three Newbold years were the best ones of my life - carefree, grief-free, filled with wondrous theology and inspiring people to the brim. Most people have long since gone but The Lady and Dr A. N. are still there and that's a reason as good as any to go there. I need to sit in the library and use some books I can't get hold of here (in preparation of Newbold Licence teaching in Riga), I want to have the traditional exhibition-bookstore trip with Dr A. N. And I need to look into the possibility of doing my doctorate in Newbold (through Wales). It's just an idea but I need to look into this and talk to Newbold people. I'm not going to study there just yet but I need a clear picture how it would look like if I decided to go one day and do it full time. Phew, talking about clarifying one's life and future!

Secondly, it looks like I am going to leave Europe for the very first time in my life in the end of May. I might go to Lebanon for 1,5 weeks. The story behind it is rather long but to cut it short, I have ended up in a very bright group of people (mostly from the Baptist church) who are deeply concerned about the migration crisis and how the church could or should respond to it. There has been a lot of brain washing happening here in Estonia and people are hysterical about refugees coming here. So we have been thinking about what could be done. Someone suggested we visited some refugee camps and churches in the Middle East to see how Christians are coping there and what they are doing on a daily basis to help people who have escaped from the war zones. There are about two million refugees in Lebanon and some local Baptists have connections with Christians over there. As soon as they started talking about the possibility of going, I was like, Count me in! I'm so coming with you! And it looks like it really is going to happen. We are looking for different ways of funding this trip at the moment but if all goes well, I should be able to get a first-hand experience of refugee camps soon. And that, heavens, might be a life-changer for me. We'll see.

And then. About two weeks ago I received the official invite from the Division to speak at the youth congress in Valencia next August. I was starting to suspect the whole thing had been T.'s prank but now it really does look like it's going to happen. It's a 12 minute TED talk on a given topic (I'm not comfortable talking about the topic just yet) plus a workshop on homiletics that I'm expected to do there. 3000 youth. I've never spoken to such a crowd in my life and I am a bit uncertain how the whole thing will turn out but I'm willing to work hard on my talk and give it my best shot. Youth congresses are always so much fun so I'm hoping to make some great memories there. Good stuff!

It feels like good things & good places sometimes do come my way. The chances must be taken and memories made. Life needs to be lived. These will be the times I'll remember on my deathbed.

--

Paolo Nutini, Million Faces

11/25/2016

This week started with my serious attempt to work myself to death. Work has an incredible liquid quality to fill every minute and hour of one's day - even if in the beginning of the week your schedule looks nice and humane. As soon as you sit down at your desk, things start adding and piling up. I don't quite know how it happens. But it always does. On Monday and Tuesday I left the office for gym after 7pm and made it to home only around 9pm. 12 hour days. Which in a sense does not really matter because there's no-one waiting for me at home, but on the other hand, it starts burning you out slowly. By Wednesday afternoon when me and J. came from the radio station after having recorded a program on Desmond Doss and Hacksaw Ridge I started smelling smoke around my head. I was getting really tired. I still had to host a small group gathering in the afternoon and then rush to catch an evening bus to Tartu. It was all becoming too much. On a bus I thought - argh, THIS time I really don't enjoy going to Tartu. I usually enjoy it because it mostly means teaching in the Seminary and seeing my cousin's family and having some cake at Werner Cafe - all things I deeply love. This time it was only the Seminary's board meeting that took me to Tartu - not exactly the most thrilling of things - and the whole thing felt like a nuisance. I'd rather stay at home, I thought to myself.

The Seminary's principal had invited me to stay at their place on Wednesday night (as the board meeting started early on Thursday) and also to stay for Thursday evening to celebrate a mutual friend's 50th birthday and the Thanksgiving. I was sceptical about the latter but in the end I thought, I could just as well go back to Tallinn on Friday morning and stay in Tartu for another night, all in all it doesn't matter much and as I have my (new) laptop with me anyway, I can work in Tartu just as well. So I accepted the invite, with less enthusiasm than would have been polite, but accepted it nevertheless.

We were having early breakfast on Thursday morning before the board meeting and being around good people and being away from the office was starting to do me good (although I also have wonderful people in the office, no mistake). I was beginning to appreciate being in Tartu again and the principal's hospitality just melted my heart. And suddenly her husband (a fellow lecturer in the Seminary and also my lecturer in Amsterdam - a wonderful man), pouring himself a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, sighed and said, "You know, life is actually really beautiful". And I was taken aback because it was such a simple statement which had started to vanish from my sight over the few days. And it shifted something in me. Because, honestly, he was right. Life was beautiful. All was well. I was enjoying blessings and friendships and work. I had no reason to complain. So I sat in the board meeting and did my running around in Tartu, his statement sill echoing somewhere in the back of my mind. Life was beautiful. Life was beautiful.

And then the evening came. We prepared the birthday feast and I was all excited. The principal's home felt more and more like my own home. Guests came and went, we said grace and counted, in a good American Thanksgving manner, the things we had to be grateful for that evening, we ate until we could eat no more, and real gratitude rose from my heart for these people I could spend this evening with. It really was Thanksgiving and I had a million reasons to give thanks. The time flew in the good company and most of the guests left but a few stayed for longer. In the end, there were only five of us around the living room table - and as I looked around me, I realised I had ended up in a very exclusive company, in the company of the power people of Estonian Baptist church. There was the principal of the Seminary, her husband, the birthday lady who works for the European Baptist Federation, and the former president of the Estonian Baptist Conference. All of us Seminary's lecturers, all of us with theological education, all of us serving the church in one way or another. Four Baptists and one Adventist. And we spoke and spoke over cups of tea, discussing theology, our mutual concerns and also our theological differences. But not for one second did I feel left out or misunderstood. Everything was said in mutual respect. I even caught the former president of their conference, a man who has in the past expressed his suspicion about Adventists, looking at me with big round eyes as I explained our theology. With all respect, sir, I know my stuff. :) It really was one good discussion, the kind of discussion I always miss since coming back from Newbold. And when it was nearing midnight, the principal's husband would read a verse from the Scriptures and we all said the Lord's prayer together.

I couldn't fall asleep for a long time after that. Such people! Such a Thanksgiving! Such a theological discussion! So much love!

All I could say was, "Life is beautiful."

Thanks given.

11/18/2016

This week has been the most intense teaching week I can remember. Over the past three days I have given five lectures, which is, uhmm, seven and a half hours of being on my feet and monologuing. It's a lot. In the aftermath of it, I'm tired but happy as a clam. Dr A. N. wrote me a few days ago and commented on her working on Advenced Greek prep, saying that she wonders why she ever does anything else. I can totally relate. I too wonder why I would do anything else beside lecturing. No, actually, I think doing it only once a month makes it even more special. I don't really know how much of a clam I would be if I had to do it on a daily basis. But in any case, Greek was as good as ever (although the students probably have a different view point lol - three classes in such a short time is a lot for them to bear), and helping out a colleague and teaching two classes of Theology of Worship this morning turned out surprisingly well too. I was nervous about these classes and told myself I had to fake the confidence and not let the students see my insecurity but when the first class started the tension disappeared slowly and I soon got back to my usual teaching mode. I might have even got into a preaching mode just once when explaining how Jesus took over all the functions of the temple and told people that from that time on He was the way to God, not the temple.

This time I also lived in the Seminary house together with the students. I usually go to my cousin's place when I'm in Tartu but as they're out of country I decided I would try the community life in the Seminary. As the girls dorm room was rather crowded, I dragged my mattress upstairs to the Christian radio station (I worked there for several years and I still know the office people so they were kind enough to let me sleep on their studio floor behind a labyrinth of CD shelves). But otherwise I got to spend time with the rest of the crowd in the mornings and evenings. I got to know some people a little better and generally had a lot of fun hanging out with them.

I might just as well admit it - the Seminary has stolen my heart. I am immensely grateful to God for giving this place to me. My life would be so much poorer without it.

--

A big shout-out to Q. who called me the other day, bringing a breath of fresh Newbold air to my life. He's one of those people who for some strange reason personifies Newbold to me. His wit and intelligence, the shared memories his pastor's heart - I truly appreciate them. Again, thank you for calling, man.

--

Here's a picture of me hanging out with some of my beautiful friends from Tallinn's church. It was last Saturday night after the Global Leadership Summit when we decided to have some cake and quality time together. I was so glad my back was finally getting better, enabling me to come out of my cave and to be around people again.


I have only gratitude in my heart as I welcome the Sabbath tonight. God has been good to me.

11/09/2016

Politics

I didn't get much sleep last night as the back pain took over my whole life yesterday. It was around 5 am that I woke up yet again and then I cared to open one eye and check the news. Nah, I thought, it can't be, the press is just over-reacting and over-dramatising everything, by the time I wake up later in the morning everything will be alright and in proper order again. I woke up again at 9 and checked the news... and things had not got any better, insetead things had got even worse. Much much worse. The percentages were confirmed, the POTUS was elected.

I wrote a message to L. just to check I had not dreamt the whole thing up, knowing that of all my Estonian friends he was probably the one who took most interest in the presidential election. He sent back a short and a rather sad message. No. It was all real.

You can't read or listen to the news nor open the Faceook today without this one news being all over the place. So I've been thinking about it quite a lot this morning - in between eating pain killers and prepping for Greek classes - and I have to admit it is such a complicated matter to deal with. There are a few options as to personal reactions and it's a tough choice between these options.

For one thing, one could curse and shake one's fist. It's probably the most natural of responses to a nonsense with a such magnitude. And I'm very tempted, very tempted indeed. But there's this annoyingly nagging Gospel verse that keeps coming back to me - Matthew 5:22 (Message): Im telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. Now, some commentators say this 'brother' or 'sister' means 'a fellow person in your faith community' but it seems like too easy a solution. I have a feeling Jesus might have been more universal with this saying. So I cannot for the peace of mind go around, yelling insults. I did it once, a month ago or so, when Mr Trump declared that he didn't care if you were terminally ill or dying, the only thing that mattered was that you voted for him, after November the 8th you could die for all he cared. I was so mad I did call him all those names Matthew mentions in his text. But it didn't really make me feel any better. I actually made me feel a lot worse. It was as if Trump was dragging me down to his level (and then beating me with experience). This wasn't a solution.

The other solution would be to pull out the book of Revelation and share quotes from it. And somehow I feel that this isn't my solution either. I know the Revelation well enough to know its main themes  - one of which is that things in this world will go from bad to worse. And that comforts me a little today, or at least it tells me that I shouldn't be shocked when I see things like this happening. Today is part of a longer process which direction has been predicted a long time ago. But I would be careful not to over-spiritualise these things, I'm not sure it does us any good.

And yet, I can't turn off the news and ignore everything either. It is important for me - as unimportant as I am - to be able to voice my disappointment and concern. I have to say (even if only in my blog) that I am deeply disturbed by the fact that someone who completely ignores basic moral values and the dignity of other human beings is allowed to hold such a powerful office. As someone said this morning, how can we teach our children that it is important to be honest, to respect people who are different from us, to work hard, to be prepared, to have moral standards, to treat others kindly when the president of the most powerful country in this world does not do any of these things. But then again - the children I know won't get their moral values straight from a powerful and scary man across the ocean. But they might get them from me, seeing how I treat others, what I say about them (including Mr President), whether I put them down or lift them up. It's as if what I spread around me - light or darkness - matters just a little bit more today, compared to yesterday. As if it should make me just a little bit more self-conscious about what and how I say or do. As if the stakes have been raised just a little higher. As if the fight between good and evil has got even more real. And that, I think, is he solution for me. To stand against hatred and stupidity and injustice wherever and whenever I can, and to be careful about my own little circle of influence. I opt for this.

I don't know if any of this makes any sense at all. If yes, I'm glad. If no, blame it on my pain killers.

11/08/2016

I'm staying home with a terrible back pain today so I have time for a blog update.

We celebrated E.'s three month birthday this past Saturday at S. and H.'s place with some cake and candles. She's growing so incredibly fast! It is so interesting to see her development, by now she's properly focusing her eyes and she's well aware of all kinds of movements in the room. She looks grown-ups in the eye, she laughs and obviously, she can make herself heard when she thinks something's not quite the way it ought to be. She's also starting to play with her toys. And she talked to me. I didn't understand (and that's my bad) but it's so nice to see her communicating. The best thing I could do in return was to sing her children's songs. And Christmas songs - it will be her first Christmas and it's no small thing. One has to start rehearsing the songs early!

My jeans, E.'s socks and a yellow butterfly. Quality time.

Pastor J. P. left for Canada last week. It was last Wednesday that I had a chance to have a longer chat with him. It was a long day - half a day in the office, then a hospital visitation, a small group gathering and the church planting group gathering. When someone from the planting group dropped me and pastor J. off after the meeting, it was quarter to ten in the evening and I thought we'd go our separate ways. But he suggested we went for a cup of tea instead and I readily accepted the invite. So we sat in my favourite Old Town restaurant for an hour and a half and talked about life, ministry, calling, grief, family, church planting and theology. And once again I had many reasons to thank the Almighty for His providence and His kindness toward me. The conversation was much needed and much much appreciated. I have been truly blessed with good people - sometimes showing up unexpectedly from the other side of the world like J. P. - who care enough to sit down and talk about life with me. He took me and my story very seriously, asked me some tough questions I didn't have ready answers for, and gave me some fatherly advice. I gained a new friend last week.

The winter has arrived, and by the looks of it, it's here to stay. I've started to drink hot chocolate in the evenings. It somehow seems to fit the occasion. The occasion of winter.

It's only a little less than a month until Take 6's Christmas concert in Tallinn.

One more week until lecturing in Tartu again. One needs stuff to look forward to.

And here's a song which I solemnly dedicate to little E. It's Foy Vance's Coco.
And every girl is someone's daughter.
And your daddy must be proud.
Well I'd be proud if you were mine.

11/01/2016

These past 1,5 weeks have been a madhouse. Work wise, that is. Our conference invited a church planting expert from the NAD to come and coach us and teach us how the church planting ought to be done. And he finally came. Pastor J. P. is a church planting coordinator in one of the Canadian conferences and he's been trying to give us all his wisdom with one visit. It has been an intense time - endless AdCom meetings with us trying to fit the Canadian church planting policy to our Estonian context. (Yesterday, as we were having yet another long meeting with our AdCom and departmental leaders and J. P., the fire alarm went suddenly off and it turned out the sensor in our meeting room had sent the signal so we joked about our brains smoking. It wasn't very funny a joke. Our brains were smoking.) It has meant a pastors meeting, worship services in Tallinn's Estonian and Russian speaking churches, a meeting with interested people from local churches, a late night meeting with Tallinn's church planting core group (I got home at 11pm that night), and a weekend seminar on church planting in Pärnu. For me personally it has meant a lot of translating, both orally as well as on the paper - slides and documents. Just yesterday evening I finished translating all the necessary documents we have taken over from the Canadians and have adopted as our own now. Now I need I. to read all the documents and make his final comments so that we could discuss and vote about the policy at our conference's winter meeting in the beginning of December. Then our policy will be set. So it really has been intense. But it's all for the good cause - we want to see, no, we need to see new churches planted in Estonia. We need bigger, more traditional churches with contemporary worship and operating style, but we also need tiny small house churches where people could just come together and learn to know each other and God. The existing churches are not enough, far from that. So we're trying to learn from the Canadian church and go forward in faith. None of us has ever done anything like this before so at times it's rather scary. But you know, if God is with us, who could be against us...

With Tallinn group in Pärnu. J. P is standing next to me.

There have been only a few good and relaxing moments during these weeks. I'm appreciating more and more my Thursday night yoga class - last week especially. And last Friday - I took a bus to Pärnu two hours earlier than I needed to, just so that I could have enough time for a lunch in a really nice restaurant. It was much needed. As Dr A. N. said to me in one of her latest emails, "We must take every sanity protecting measure we can." We must indeed.

--

I would like to take a solemn moment and express my gratitude. Last week I realised again that I have people in my life who are far better than I could ever deserve or ask for. It is a very humbling thing to come to this conclusion again. Over these past emotionally intense days I have realised again that I wouldn't know what to do without J. and Dr A. N. I think J. is the only person who, after hearing my endless list of misfortunes and lamentations, would quote Dallas Willard to me. And it's Dr A. N. who can comfort me with her wisdom and wit the way no-one else can. Both have given me priceless advice and both have lifted my spirit again. A humble thank you.

--

Norah Jones, Carry On.