9/25/2018

TV and Teaching

I'm on my annual leave since last Tuesday which leads us to a very logical conclusion - I've been to Newbold since last Tuesday. Part of my stay here is pure fun and part of it is real work, and I am not sure I'm balancing those two well. But let's start with the fun bit.

I was staying at K. and T.'s place for the first days after I had arrived. And on the second day I discovered their TV. It may sound meaningless but here's the context - I don't have a TV nor Internet connection in my apartment. It's a conscious choice I've made and it saves me a lot of time. No Netflix. No mindless TV watching in the evenings. No 'let me just quickly read the news, oh, did I really spent an hour on Internet!?' thing. That's the reason why I get to read 30 books and go to 30 concerts a year - my evenings are screen free. Anyway, I suddenly discovered K.'s TV. And I decided I had deserved some mindless watching. And this is exactly what I did - I mindlessly watched three seasons of Luther in some three days, and it felt wonderful just to let my brain completely freeze and let Idris Elba do what he does so well. I kind of like this TV thing, really. (And yet, my home is staying a TV-free zone).

Then I also had my compulsory London date with Dr A. N. We had agreed to take on Tate Modern this time and it was awesome. Of course there was so much I was completely ignorant about, artists I didn't know. But a few rang a bell, too. Picasso, Chagall, Warhol. But the main reason for our Tate tour was an exhibit called The Tower of Babel. It's a real tower, made of some 800 radios which are tuned to different channels and are simultaneously blasting in different languages. Which sounds like unintelligible babbling to one's ear, of course. It was absolutely genius and made us both very giggly. Then a long lunch in Soho which really turned into an early dinner because many things needed to be said and shared and analysed: Newbold, books, concerts, family history, future etc. When I left London, I felt the way I always feel after a long conversation with A. - that my life had a little bit more meaning and direction than before our talk. She's amazing.

Tate
This has been the main fun. Of course, there have also been many other encounters which I have fully enjoyed. Saying hello to my old lecturers, seeing the new students, having tea with T. after he's done with the day's work etc. Tonight I'm heading out with L. for a dinner. There are good people around me and I appreciate it very much.

But then the work bit. The real reason I'm here is not so much my vacation but the invite from the DTS to give some lectures to the undergrad theology students. So. I have three classes this week. I had Acts & Epistles yesterday, and will have Greek and Foundation of Biblical Studies on Thursday. The preparation takes considerable time and the classes take a lot of energy so I'm a little worried about this being my annual leave. I've become acquainted with burnout over the past years and me sitting in the library, reading and prepping for the classes during my vacation smells like another disaster coming my way. I can picture the burnout being Liam Neeson and telling me in his deathly voice, 'I will find you and I will kill you'. [A completely random fact: did you know that Liam Neeson also borrowed his voice to Aslan in them Narnia movies? :D] But it's not all bad, of course. Yesterday in Acts class with T. sitting in the classroom I realised how good it is when another lecturer hears you teach and gives you feedback afterward. Like, of course there is student feedback and exam results which kind of tells you whether you're any good at lecturing or whether you suck at it but having a seasoned colleague in the classroom is actually priceless. So I take it as a precious learning experience. Dr A. N. will be there for my Foundations class on Thursday which, of course, makes me want to do well but which on the other hand is another good chance to get feedback and grow as a lecturer.

But today is my own study day. I need to go to the library and read for my doctoral project. And do some writing. I know I shouldn't, I should really watch some more Luther and let my mind rest but here we are...

9/12/2018

We had the first real milestone with our church planting group this past Saturday when we had our big opening day. I remember when we returned from Riga, from a church planting conference in 2015, thinking that maybe it could really be something we ought to try out here in Tallinn. And I remember the countless meetings and meetings and meetings that followed that conference when the process started slowly and rather painfully. And I remember feeling pretty hopeless. Now, on Friday evening, when the whole building was full on ant-like youth, someone putting up lights, someone dragging sofas, someone glueing photos to the wall, someone practicing the violin downstairs, someone preparing food in the kitchen, someone singing, someone eating someone else's birthday cake, I found myself in the middle of this madness, and my brain still refused to believe. This is like a dream, I thought, and I'm afraid I might wake up any minute. But it turned out to be real after all.

We had the opening day and the building could barely accommodate all the people who came. We had some 150 people attending our first public service. I would say half of them were our friends from other Adventist churches from all over Estonia who came out to support us and see the coming true of our dream themselves. But there were strangers too, dozens of them. People who had never walked into an Adventist church before. And whatever they found there or thought, I don't know. But one thing I do know - they found there a friendly and welcoming community. And that's probably the best thing one could find when coming to church for the first time.

There was a shy young man, sitting in the front of the church hall all by himself some 15 minutes before the service begun and I had never seen him before. I talked to him a little and I found out he had visited our garden cafe day some two weeks earlier and had gotten the invite. And although he didn't have any personal contact with our church, he had decided to come. He spent the whole day with us, and when the day was over and all the food had been eaten and I took a broom and others started to clean up too, I heard him say to someone, "Well, until the next Saturday then". My jaw just dropped and I probably looked very silly, staring at him. But honestly, this is not what I had expected. And yet, this is what gives my heart hope and courage - our church can become home to these young people. It's too bad I have to preach elsewhere this coming Saturday and I can't be there but once I'm back from my Newbold trip and am back to Compass church, I want and hope to see many people returning to our services and to our community.   

This is pure awesomeness. Better than anything I could have ever thought or expected. God is good.







--

As to music and the latest developments on that front, there are good news and bad news. The bad news is that I resumed my singing classes yesterday and the first one was so bad I wanted to cry. It seems like I had not learned nor remembered anything from the last semester. And it is so difficult to start the hard work all over again. I was very disheartened when I left the Music Academy but I also know that this is where I have to endure. There is a price for those who persevere. I won't quit although right now I totally feel like it.

But there are also good news. My latest concert review - on Tallinn Organ Festival - was published in Music in the beginning of September, and a week after the journal was out, the head editor wrote and asked for my permission for that review to be given to the national broadcasting web site that publishes news on culture and art. This was very surprising, and a next step for me. So it turns out there are more opportunities to get one's concert reviews published than just in Music. I will definitely remember that in the future [evil laughter].

I visited my old violin teacher some three weeks ago. It turned out to be a marvellous evening, and it was almost midnight when I left her place. All life - both the joy and the pain of it - was discussed and I love my teacher to bits for being a source of sanity and wisdom for me. But it was more than that. She told me - after I had told her about my Christmas decision to take my violin from under my bed and start practicing again - that I should let her know once I've practiced enough and want to have a lesson with her. She wouldn't mind seeing me in her classroom again, even if just for one time. Now, this offer might seem a small one but it is really a huge one. She is one of the best and most acclaimed teachers in the whole of the country, and a teacher who can pick and choose her students - many of whom will go to London and Berlin and Vienna after flying out of the nest, becoming the best violinists in Estonia in later years. Her experience and expertise are absolutely priceless, and so is one lesson with her. I was very lucky to have her as my teacher for a couple of years although I didn't appreciate this privilege enough back in the days. Now I appreciate it much more and just the idea of having another class with her makes me jump with joy. Oh my!

Yesterday evening I got this year's 26th concert ticked off. It was the birthday concert of one of my favourite human beings in the whole world - Arvo Pärt. He turned 83 and we made our way through the crowd with H. to wish him blessings and shake his hand before the concert started. It was a wonderful feeling. The concert itself was wonderful too. I had not heard his Berliner Messe before and it was heavenly. And afterwards it was almost baffling to see how the packed church, hundreds of people, would stand and clap for minutes on end, tears in many an eye, and so much love in the air that the church seemed to be thick with it when the old Maestro waved and bowed and accepted bouquets of flowers. I don't think there is another person we Estonians love so much as Arvo Pärt. And rightly so. If there's anyone who deserves to be loved with such passion and emotion, it's him - the most brilliant composer the world knows. 

9/04/2018

European Pastors Council

I got back from Belgrade, from the European Pastors Council, late on Sunday night. As it’s my second day at home, some dust has begun to settle and it feels like the right time to look back and summarise the event. And as I seem not to be able to muster the energy to give feedback through official channels, may this also be my feedback.

It was my third EPC so I knew what to expect. And I got exactly what I expected. There were countless happy reunions and hugs, there was awesome preaching (whooosh, did Dr Brown do a marvelous job on Friday evening!) and good music, an expensive hotel and hot weather, this and that. But I also realised with a bit of a shock how different everything was this time. The previous times I went to the EPC together with my parents. And now suddenly – all by myself. It was not easy. It didn’t take away any of the joy of meeting my people and enjoying the event but it added an extra layer of emotion to everything. And at times this underlying emotion broke through. Like when I cried my way through the closing ceremony up on the balcony (I had enough brains to stay away from others), missing my mom, missing my dad, missing the easy-breezy-beautiful feeling of the past, feeling so hopelessly sorry for myself. But then the feeling passed – as it always does – and all was well again. It will also come back – it always does – but it doesn’t matter. I’ve become familiar with it, I’ve learned to live with it.

This time I no longer looked up to the preachers the way I had done in the past. I remember my first time in the Netherlands and how I stared at the speakers with my eyes and mouth wide open. I had never heard preaching as good as this in my life! Don’t get me wrong, the people who preached this time did also a very good job, they did it better than I ever could but having dug myself into homiletics, it has lost some of its golden shine for me. Now I analyse things in my head, I analyse different structures, different approaches to the Biblical text, different personalities, different approaches to preaching as performance. But it’s still wonderful when the text becomes alive (and dances in front of our eyes, as G. R. always prays before his sermons) and touches a cord deep inside me. This magic, fortunately, has stayed.

My last blog post got a nice ending in Serbia as after some good conversations it became obvious that I shouldn’t accept the offer which was made a month ago. I said no with half of my heart being heavy an with the other half being very light. But I came back home with conviction that I’m in the right place here even if it feels like losing my life at moments (and I think Jesus once said something about losing one’s life for His sake). So that’s finished.

I also came to the conclusion that my classmates are some of the coolest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. If it wasn’t for school, I would have walked pass them in the crowd and they would have remained complete strangers to me. But now – such wonderful people I can call not only my colleagues but also friends. I’m counting by blessings, people!

There’s one more thing but I don’t know how to talk about it. How to talk about it without offending anyone and yet staying true to my belief. Well, it has to do with women pastors and the meetings we had there. There were three meetings. I missed the first one because of a study group meeting I needed to attend, then I went to the second one and missed the third again due to an utter unwillingness to go. Let me try and explain. There's stuff that’s wrong in our church, yes. The main reason I'm concerned with the women’s ordination issue is that we’re sending a really poor message and we’re doing a very poor job in representing the gospel to the world. We could and ought to do so much better, there’s no question about that. But when I go to a meeting where the room is full of women and I sense an agressive and somewhat battleful spirit – and I am a highly sensitive person which means that this kind of stuff I feel very directly and heavily – then I just want to pack my bags and leave. And I honestly think there is something very very wrong with the whole thing. Like, ladies, you said yes to the call of Jesus (who, by the way, got killed for living His own message), you said yes to taking your cross (!) and following Him and fighting the spiritual fight, why on earth did you think it would be easy? A walk in a park? Why do I find myself in the middle of pastors’ meeting and people around me seem to be surprised at how tough the pastor’s life is? Like, really! I’ve been thinking about it since that unfortunate meeting I attended and I spoke with some of my trusted friends about it but I can’t come up with good answers. And I’m thinking, maybe instead of trying to find more ways to persuade and pressure the GC leadership, maybe we should all go and re-read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship? It probably sounds like I’m letting all my sisters down but there is something about the whole thing that deeply troubles me. And I can’t get over it.

On a less emotional note, my workshop went alright. I got good feedback and was very-very pleased to see my classmates come and support me.

The first evening we arrived, there were very serious men in very expensive tailored suits (must have been Armani) and very grave expressions on their faces in the lobby and outside the hotel and in our fancy upstairs lobby. First we joked about elder T. W. traveling with such an impressive entourage but it turned out it was a sheikh from the Arab Emirates staying in the hotel. So. I guess I missed my only chance of becoming a Saudi princess in a golden cage. Oh well.

But seriously speaking, the EPC is really meant to be a couples' retreat. It’s not an event for single people. So, it has been emotional and I have enjoyed it, but that was my last EPC. I don’t want to go any more.

Over and out.

8/08/2018

Strange Times

I was in Helsinki last weekend, attending the Christians for Biblical Equality conference. I gave my presentation and survived all the small-talk and networking and business card exchanging (not that I have one) that always takes place at international conferences, and felt terribly tired by Saturday evening. When do they start organising conferences for introverts, I wondered. The ones that won't scare me with the classic conference hits like "Now form a small group and discuss..." or "I really liked your presentation, could tell me some more..." So. I was pretty done by Saturday night and had just arrived at the place where I was staying, hoping to put my feet up and enjoy the bliss of silence and non-communication.

Just then I received a text from, uhmm, let's call him X. Do you have time to speak? And I text him back, saying, sure, I'll be back to my office on Monday, let's find time and speak next week. And he's like, can we do it right now? I need your answer for an important question by tomorrow evening the latest. This sure got my attention. So we spoke.

I can't quite say I was offered a job then and there but I was offered a chance of my candidacy being considered for a certain position. There are many people involved in the complicated and time-consuming decision process and an important meeting was to take place on Sunday for which they needed to find out whether I would be even interested and whether there was any point for them to discuss my name in the committee.

And I felt physically how the terrible burden of having to make an important decision was put on my shoulders. And how the carefully created equilibrium of my life was shattered to pieces.

Now, I'm really bad at making decisions. I can't even make up my mind in a restaurant. It's a wonder - and a grace of God - I've gotten anything done in my life. So when big decisions need to be made, I just brain freeze. So I brain froze on Saturday night.

The position/job itself is really interesting. It involves tons of hard work but also a good team and a lot of potential. The place to which I'd have to move is wonderful. It's something that would have made me jump through the roof in excitement, had such an offer come a couple of years ago.

But now I don't know. I've started to grow some roots, it seems (or I'm just getting old, go figure). I can't bear the thought of leaving this country. My family is here. Most of the places and people I care so deeply about are here. My work is meaningful and interesting. There's potential here too. There are people I can be of service to here. There are churches who always invite me to preach and who are happy when I come. I work in a wonderful team. I am a member of a church plant. And I also want to continue my singing classes and review writing, although they're not in the Top 10 of my Remain campain list. Heavens, I want to see my niece grow up! And I naturally want to stick to everything that is familiar and safe.

I came back home on Sunday afternoon and when the ferry approached Tallinn and I saw the city and all the beaches and the Old Town silhouette from the distance, I thought, "How could I leave this behind?"

This week is my Concert Review Week. The heartily anticipated Tallinn Organ Festival is finally here and every evening I make my way up to St Nicholas' Church in the Old Town. I sit for hours on end, listening to heavenly organ music and looking at 500 year old art that's on display. Of course I have to think about the review and what I'd say there, but most of the time I'm just thinking existential thoughts, really. Who am I? Why am I? What am I doing here? What would it take to make me leave? What would it take to make me stay? Why would I stay? Why would I leave? Is this the life I want? What would I say if I could send myself a message from my death bed? What makes life meaningful? What about risk and adventure? What on earth (and in heaven) does God think of the whole business?

I've never had concerts so deep and existential in my life, people.

My brain is still frozen. But if you say a prayer for me and if God comes through, it'll get better. Eventually, anyway.

7/30/2018

It's so hot outside that my brain works very slowly. Or maybe I am just on a holiday mode (holiday that doesn't exist for me). So I haven't been able to pull myself together enough to write a blog post. But M. is writing her blog every day, even with that heat wave, and that inspires me. Even though I don't have much to say.

The main thing is that I spent a week on Saaremaa island at our conference's youth camp. I am not a camping person. I am a "please do not disturb my little routines and my little comforts" kind of person. So if it wasn't my job - literal job - to show up and help at the camp meeting, I would totally skip it. I guess it's good in a way that I can't skip it. It forces me out of my little comfort bubble. But on that Sunday morning two weeks ago I had to take a very deep breath before getting on the bus and preparing myself mentally for a whole week in a bush with our youth.

Of course everything turned out just fine. I had mentoring / Bible study classes every morning with 16-19 year olds (I'm like twice as old as them and thus from a different planet). I translated the main speaker. Answered some theological questions at the camp fire in the evenings. And I had meetings with other mentors to discuss the content and ideas for our classes every evening. The rest of the time I did very little as it was so hot. We went swimming and I read a book and went bird watching once with my dad (he was one of the mentors too) and one day I almost skipped the camp altogether and went to Kuressaare with A. to eat in a restaurant and buy fresh strawberries from the local market. Like I said, I'm not a good camper.

I'm doing much better at home although the office gets hot too and most of my colleagues are on vacation. I like routine - every Tuesday I'm in the local library reading my compulsory books and writing reading reflections, after which I allow myself some cake in a nice cafe. You need those little rewards to keep you going and motivated. Every second evening I walk to the close-by market to buy strawberries or blueberries. I read Jaan Kross. I'm trying to get my talk on paper which I need to present in Helsinki in the end of this week. I've picked up gym again. Other than that, I'm sort of hibernated, really.

--

Here are a couple of pictures from the youth camp. I really like the one with K. She's studying in Newbold, half way through her MA studies and I get, well, not motherly, but older-sisterly when I see her. Because everything she tells me about her studies and life in Newbold is so familiar. And I tell her stuff about working in the church and what is waiting for her here next year. But we don't only talk about theology and church, we also do other things together. I stayed at her place for an evening before we headed to the youth camp and after we had watched France win the World Cup and after an evening walk when it was way too late and we should have gone to bed, we had to watch another episode of The Night Manager. Because, you know, Tom Hiddleston...

Poppy fields of Saaremaa island
Mr Snail
Unidentified flowers
With K. at the end of the camp

6/29/2018


I went through a reading crisis which worried me quite a bit. It's like, when you have a cat and one day she suddenly stops eating, you have a reason to worry. Likewise, when you have a Mervi and one day she stops reading, there's something wrong. I got to the root of it fast though - the reason was lying in the list of obligatory school books. As soon as you have mandatory reading list and deadlines for book reflections, even the nicest thing - like reading - can turn into work. And well... work is work. Help.

I had to think about it for a while and it seems like I was able to come up with a solution. I told myself - the school books are your work so you read them during your work time and you do not write those book titles down in your notebook for the annual book count. The book count and evenings are only for fun reading as they always have been. So by making a clear distinction between what I have to read and what I want to read, I was more or less able to overcome my crisis. Although, there is so much stuff I need to read in connection with my studies that my eyes get tired often and I read less in the evenings. But that's not too serious a thing. The main thing is that I have gotten back a healthy appetite for reading.

I got sick last weekend (I suspect it had something to do with the fact that I didn't have any time to catch my breath after returning from Newbold and my body just decided to do a shut down). So as much as my headache and runny nose let me, I could read. And I mean, fun read. I had a stack of books which I had brought from the UK and which patiently waited for their turn. Now it was their turn. And now it was their chance to save me from the insanity of solitary confinement - I don't do well, having to stare at my ceiling and not having anyone to talk to for days on end. So I read. And among other stuff, I read Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. It turned out to be one of those books that makes a lasting and very emotional impression. I mean, it was so good it hurt! The last hundred pages needed to be read all in one go because it suddenly became a matter of life and death to find out what happened to Robert Jordan. Knowing Hemingway, I knew there was very little chance for the book to have a happy ending but even with that knowledge the ending hit me hard. I literally cried through the last pages (really bad idea when you already have a headache). Some 5 days have passed now and I am still under this book's spell. If there has been one man who knew how to write, it was Hemingway (and that despite all his chauvinism). He was a wonder of a story teller! Read the Bells if you get a chance!

I'm better now and am back to work, although I should have stayed in bed for a couple of days longer. Sometimes the burden of doing nothing is too much to bear. Anyway, I'm reading Vladimir Sharov's The Rehearsals now, a book that came to me from Dr A. N.'s "advanced reading class". It's so strange I am occasionally not sure I can make it to the end but I will. I understood what the book was about by the 100th page or so. Weird late Soviet / early post-Soviet stuff, all very allegorical and deeply-deeply steeped in the Biblical motifs.

Other than the stupid illness, all is well. I'm occasionally watching football in the evenings - sorry to see the Germans leave and hoping for Uruguay to kick some Portuguese butts. Enjoying the summer (or what's left of it) and being exceptionally grateful for all the good things I have in my life. Waiting to see all my Newbold people in the end of August. Waiting for the new concert season to begin in the autumn.

The song of a day - no, of a month - is Tchaikovsky's Hymn of the Cherubim. Heavenly!

6/10/2018

I'm really bad at shopping. Like, really really bad.

When I go to a shopping mall alone, I last for about twenty minutes. If I'm with a friend, I can stay for some thirty minutes before I feel an irresistible need to leave. Which makes it sometimes quite difficult for me to shop - if I don't find what I'm looking for in first two shops I go into, there's a good chance I leave without buying anything. So I always have to be very strategic when it comes to choosing the shops. I basically need the first one to be the right one. And even if I truly need something, it may take me up to two weeks before I feel motivated enough to go to a mall and buy it. There is something about things, about great quantity of things, that makes me so tired in my head. I just don't like stuff.

I don't understand people who think shopping is fun. It isn't.

And I am one of those weirdos who actually thinks owning 25 pairs of shoes is unethical. It's morally wrong.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that I don't value certain things. I do. I have my mom's watch and it is immensely valuable to me. I have a violin which some well-to-do friends helped me buy when I was a poor student, and I have a very emotional relationship to it. S. knitted me a sweater as a Christmas present and I love wearing it. I have a cool ceramic kettle in my kitchen which I bought together with my mom and I'm glad I have it. I like the quality - emotional and sentimental quality - of things.

And the shopping rule also has exceptions. I like bookshops - for very obvious reasons - although I get tired even there. Then I like buying concert tickets online. The good thing about this is that I don't end up with more stuff in my drawers, I end up with more beautiful memories and this is brilliant. And then there is one more odd exception. In a mall, I can stand for 15 minutes and window-shop for watches. Considering my 20 minute shopping time limit, this is really something.

When I finished teaching Greek a month ago, I felt like celebrating. It had been a tough year and yet, all turned out so very well in the end, the students worked hard and the results were very good. Newbold was happy, I was happy. So I thought - let me pat myself on the back and reward myself. And oh, why don't I be creative and get myself a thing as a present this time. Maybe even a watch so that this one time I would really have a reason to turn my window-shopping into real shopping. And it would be such a nice reminder of my teaching year. Something tangible. A thing.

So I went shopping just before leaving the UK on Friday. I didn't take me longer than 20 minutes, honestly. And I left the fancy shop as a proud owner of a watch I have decided to call The Greek Watch, honoring the endless hours of preparing for Greek classes and commuting between Tallinn and Riga. So let me proudly present, a thing of a watch:


--

It is wonderful to be back home. Last week I was feeling pretty homesick so I got a little emotional when I saw the Old Town steeples from the plane window. There's no place like home! The first thing I did after dragging my suitcase home was to go to a grocery store and buy dark rye bread, real bread. Yesterday I got to taste first fresh strawberries and fresh pickles and I suddenly realised summer had reached this far Nordic corner of the world while I was away. Summer and home, ah! And today I'm taking revenge for the past Sundays when they made us sit in the classroom and study from morning til evening. I'm lazy-ing around my apartment, listening to my favourite radio program, reading the newest William Dalrymple book which Dr A. N. gave me as a present (W. D.'s Koh-i-Noor was published in paperback literally while I was in the UK so it's like a warm bread straight out of oven) and thinking about calling my Mister Little Brother to get together for lunch. Maybe a walk in the Old Town in the evening... Take that, classroom! Revenge tastes so sweet. But home tastes sweeter yet.