11/25/2018

It’s that time of the year again. That one month.

I’m getting used to it. It comes around every year, knocks the air out of me, and then leaves again. Knowing that it comes and goes and that there’s nothing I can do about it makes it easier for me to bear it. What I’m talking about it my mom’s birthday and the anniversary of her passing, of course. She would have turned 65 tomorrow. We would have had a family get-together and a party this weekend. And on December 23 it will be five years since we said our goodbyes.

I’m learning to be kind to myself. Sometimes I would get impatient, almost mad at myself for grieving, and I would ignore my feelings. But I don’t see a reason why I should do it any more. I would be kind to anyone else in this situation, it’s about time for me to be kind to myself. So I say to my boss that I need some extra time and space for myself these days, I don’t push myself too hard, I cancel an appointment or two. And I take extra time for taking care of myself.

What I do is so obvious it wouldn’t really deserve a blog post. But still. I listen to Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass almost obsessively these days because this music is a lifeline for me. I give myself permission to read a little longer in the evenings than usual. (Chinelo Okparanta and Herta Müller have kept me company over the last days - these ladies really know how to write) I take long walks. I stay away fom people, with a few exceptions, of course. I went out with K. last night and we talked about mom and we talked about dad and it was so good because I don’t even have to finish a sentence, he already knows what I mean, and vice versa. No-one understands me like he does and no-one understands him like I do. I guess that’s what you’d call „the sibling blessing“.

And the good thing is that even all that loneliness and longing do not take away anything beautiful. They just add an extra lense, an extra meaning to goodness and beauty. It doesn’t take anything away from the joy of receiving a letter from U., from the heart-felt gratitude for another good concert, from the deep feeling of satisfaction for doing something meaningful as I leave the national radio station after recorning the morning devotionals, from a privilege of having lunch with a 93 year old Catholic priest who seems to be made up of faith and hope and nothing else. The valley of the shadow of death (death’s shadow can be long, so long!) does not make me shut my little notebook where I write down everything I’m grateful for on the daily basis. I still keep couning my blessings, even if the tears make my eyes go blurry for a while. I still keep praying for other people even if my own prayers seem to go unanswered.

But I am also longing for this season to be over. I long for snow and for light and for spring and for laughther and for someone who could stop the shadow of death from coming any further.

11/19/2018

It’s prayer I want to talk about.

It was some months ago when I felt God’s tugging at my sleeve, encouraging me to do some sort of a public prayer appeal. Now, I’m not one of those people who would post Jesus Loves You postcards on Facebook. I’m kind of a private person and I don’t like to be in people’s face with my beliefs (or have others be in my face with theirs, really). But I’m also a Christian, under the jurisdiction of Jesus’ great commission, so there are moments when these two aspects of my identity clash. I let the thing be for a while, thinking that maybe it would pass, maybe the tension would solve. But it didn’t. It kept coming back, bothering me.

So when I was in Newbold in September and I had had a marvelous day with A. in London and it was Friday evening and I was on the train back to Bracknell, I decided I’d do it. The physical distance with my Estonian friends shielded or helped me a little. So I took a deep breath, opened my Facebook and wrote to all my Estonian speaking friends that I would be taking some extra time for prayer the next day and if anyone would like me to pray for them, they can just like my post and I promise to pray for them personally. And if anyone should have a more specific prayer request, they’re welcome to DM me. Then I closed my Facebook, not knowing what (if anything) would follow. What followed I certainly didn’t expect.

There were so many people liking my post it actually confused me - close friends, mere acquaintances, church members, non-Christians, straight, gay, everybody. And there were people writing me messages, telling about their difficulties. And I mean, difficulties! Someone was having post-natal problems, someone was just about to start chemo, someone’s child was about to have an open heart surgery, someone was sick and tired of being single. (And I thought my life was hard! Heavens!) I read the messages until I cried. The next day I dutifully wrote all 76 names on paper and had the longest prayer meeting in my life. I was at K.’s place and when she went to take a Sabbath afternoon nap (she’s a good Adventist) and I told her about my prayer list, she said I could come and wake her up if I needed someone to hold up my hands if I got weary – a good ole Moses joke. :) I didn’t wake her up, just so that you know. I did get very tired by the end of the 3rd hour but I kept my promise, and it turned out to be one of the most meaningful Sabbaths I can remember.

I did the same appeal again a month later when I once again had a free Sabbath. I sat in the park on a gloriously warm autumn day and prayed for everyone (70+ people again) until I could pray no more.

And I think God is really teaching me things. He’s teaching me about the potential and power of prayer. The chemo seems to be working. The child ended up having two terrible heart surgeries and I prayed for this little boy for weeks and weeks until I started losing hope. And just when I thought it was never going to get any better for him and that he’d be stuck in hospital forever, he made a miraculously speedy recovery. His mother – someone I had last seen twenty years ago  – still sends me photos of him every second day. I have not been able to visit them yet but it will be one heck of an emotional day when I see them. A child with emotional health problems has made a recovery and her mother keeps me updated. The tumor turned out to be benign. My cousin called me two weeks ago because she remembered my prayer appeal and she asked if I could pray for a difficult and potentially dangerous situation she’s in. A week later she called me again, utterly baffled, saying the problem had been solved. Phew. Thank you, God.

I also learn about the need to be consistent in prayer. Some people I pray for I don’t even know. And it’s hard to pray for people you don’t know much about. I don’t know if anything happens or changes in their life. I don’t know if they recognise answered prayers. I don’t even know whether they recognise God. But I know I have to keep at it, and if nothing else, it’s my prayer muscles that grow stronger through this process, and that’s something, too.  

And I hope I become somehow more sensitive to God’s voice. That when He needs someone to pray for someone (why would He, this I do not fully understand), He’d be like, Oh, but there’s Mervi, she can do it.

And my heart becomes more sensitive to others through this, too, I’ve noticed. I actually care about those people. I want to see God’s miracles in their lives, the healing, the solving of difficulties, the calming of storms.

I still don’t want to post any sickly sweet stuff on Facebook. But I also want my friends to know that if they ever need prayers, and if they ever need someone to believe in those prayers for them, they’ve got me.


A former colleague from Tartu uni, an atheist as far as I know, posted a song under my first appeal. Regina's Spektor, Laughing With. Isn't it cool?!

10/28/2018

I had one week of vacation left and I got it right this time – I didn’t give any lectures, I didn’t answer work email, but instead I packed my bag, met up with a friend in the airport and flew to Paris. Paris, I think, is always a right choice. Or a right answer.

I had never been to Paris before so I walked around the city for four days with my eyes and heart wide open. And I liked what I saw. Of course, there are always bizarre things about a foreign place, things you’re not used to. So also in Paris. The streets over there can be quite dirty, the traffic chaotic (well, European chaotic, not Bangladeshi chaotic), the Parisians wouldn’t want to speak to you in English even if their dear life depended on it, and they served us breakfast in the hotel that only consisted of sweet pastries and jam. I returned home with a serious sugar shock and renewed love for rye bread and morning porridge. But the rest was wonderful. We walked some 45 km over these days, deciding on a whim each morning where we would want to go. We saw the Notre-Dame, Montmartre, the Latin quarter, Orsay museum, Louvre, Hotel des Invalides (the man who created these last two places, namely Louis XIV, was very clearly suffering from megalomania), Champs Elysees, Luxembourg garden, Pantheon (again, traces of imperialistic megalomania – if Londoners have got their St Paul’s cathedral and Romans their St Peter’s basilica, we can certainly build a bigger cathedral just for the sake of having a bigger building), Sorbonne university, Shakespeare and Co bookshop, and miles and miles of smaller and larger boulevards, early in the morning, late at night, with the weather as warm as summer. My feet were tired and my heart was very happy.

I had to admit to myself with a surprise (feeling like a traitor) that I liked Paris a lot better than London.


But the most wonderful thing about the trip was art. We went to three different art museums and drank so much from the cup of art that I could go on for the next year, not visiting any exhibitions. One of these places was Picasso’s museum which was some 15 minutes away from our hotel. The next day after visiting Picasso I insisted on going to Musee d’Orsay, mainly for the sake of the French impressionists. But they also had there a large special exhibition on Picasso which meant that we saw some 500 pieces of Picasso’s work over two days. I had only known one face of Picasso, from his late period, with all the cubism and strange figures and stuff. But I was very surprised to find a completely different Picasso there. It seemed to me that there's not one a style he hadn’t given a try during his long life. One of my personal favourites was this simple drawing from a 21 year old Picasso: Christ on the cross. I refrain from taking photos in art museums but this picture I really needed to have.   



Now I’m back home and very happy with the fact that I don’t have to take another trip until mid February (I’ll be preaching at Newbold’s Week of Spiritual Emphasis then). I like being put and quietly busying myself with my everyday business. I like doing my homework, I like going to concerts and singing classes, even long meeting days with the Conference leadership team are pleasant.

As to books and concerts (which deserve a separate post), I have almost reached this year’s goal. Last week I went to the 30th concert of 2018 – The King’s Singers was a good choice to celebrate my milestone while they celebrated their own milestone, their 50th anniversary. They sing as well as ever and look as dapper as ever. And I’m in the middle of my 30th book right now (I need some Eugene Peterson in my life every now and then). So the next concerts and books are just pure bonus and bliss.

And it smells of snow! I am impatiently waiting for the first snow to arrive!

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.