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.

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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 Newbol 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:


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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.

5/30/2018

You know those "In the beginning of the semester... In the end of the semester..." memes that have Barack Obama on them, on one picture beginning his time as the POTUS (all bright and shiny), on the other one in the end of those years (all gray and withered). Yes. That's me in Newbold, and it has only taken 1,5 weeks.

It's a bit of an army regime over here. 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the classroom, from 7 p.m. in the library. It gets harder and harder to get up every morning. If I drank coffee, I would totally do it now.

The whole process of getting accepted in Andrews was slightly frantic so the list of pre-intensive books which we should have read by now landed way too late on our desks. So everyone is desperately trying to get as much reading done every day as possible. And book reports written. Some evenings I get a double vision from all that reading and book-reporting which is something I rather didn't tell my doctor of an optometrist.

I walk about 250 steps each day. Dorm - class - caf - library - dorm. My body is not happy.

But it's not all sweat and tears, of course. There are many wonderful things about this course and - make no mistake - I am very glad to be here! First, the group. We have 20 people in our cohort, all from different parts of the world, and I really like them. Obviously, I knew some of them guys from my Newbold days (NJ, for example) and others I had never seen before. But it has taken us no time to get into this good supportive group spirit. It was sometime last week, heavens, I am not quite sure when - probably Thursday? - when we watched a movie with our group (Remember the Titans) and suddenly pop-corn and crisps appeared and for the first time I felt like these were my people. Wonderful stuff. Almost all of them will come to the European Pastors Council in Belgrade in the end of August so I am looking forward to our first post-classroom-madness reunion! :)

And then, of course, there are all those wonderful lecturers. I popped by G. R.'s office last week and got him to agree to read the chapters of my future dissertation, once I get to writing it. Because I want to do my thing on Homiletics and G. R. was the first one to introduce me to the world of preaching. Dr A. N. had a full day of lecturing last week and I loved every minute of it. I am totally biased and one-sided when it comes to her but I don't care. I love that woman so much. And T. did a brilliant job yesterday when he lectured on Postmodernism and Metamodernism. I can't help but pop by his office every day - just for 20 minutes or so - to talk about stuff. He's one of the kindest people I've ever met. And talking to him always feels like a breath of fresh air. Things like this - no, people like this - just make me so grateful and happy to be here.

Obviously, there are a million assignments to do and mountains to climb but it's all good. The emails I get from home - about usual work stuff in the conference - seem to be coming from a different planet. I'm mentally very far from my every-day work, and that's probably one of the perks of my studies.

Again I have wasted some 30 minutes of perfectly valuable library time on my blog. Blogging really isn't or shouldn't be a part of an army regime, should it? No, sir!

5/22/2018

I'm back to Newbold campus, back to school.

It's eight years since I first set my foot on the campus, and I have been reflecting on the differences of those two comings a lot. Because they are worlds apart. And I have to admit, I like the second coming much better than the first one.

It's all about people. It sounds so obvious but I come to that same conclusion again and again - it's all about people. They make all the difference in the world. I remember the first coming and the way lecturers' name tags on the office doors made me feel. In my mind, these theologians were super men and wonder women, dwelling in unreachable hights of academia. I didn't know how to approach them. This time the first thing I needed to get done on campus was getting my Riga students' exams second marked by T. I slided the exam papers under his office door before my class started, by the time we finished for lunch, he had gotten them read and marked. And we had a wonderful conversation about Greek and Newbold and life after agreeing on the grades. I almost missed my lunch. And it's just one tiny example. For another, we are planning our annual London date with Dr A. N., having decided to take on Tate Modern this time. We were supposed to go last weekend but unfortunately I was feeling poorly (the combination of a runny nose and a flight can sometimes end in a health mess that takes a week to clean up) so we are trying to come up with another date that would fit my (endless) classroom hours and her busy schedule. Just now, after a lunch, T. and A. broke into J-C.'s office as this seems to be the only office in Murdoch Hall with a coffee machine in it. They had their afternoon coffee shot, I just enjoyed their company (and was made fun of for not drinking with them:). And then after that I ran into L., the librarian, who was so pleased to see me that she invited me to have a supper with her next week. "I'd love to catch up," she said, and I was rather surprised because we have never been friends or anything - I mean, I was just a student here, always in the library, yes, but nothing else. These tiny little encounters, people being happy to see me, some lecturers having morphed from professors to dear friends and colleagues, their warm inclusiveness and interest in my life... I still cannot believe it. I dont think I've done much to deserve it and yet here it all is. My people. My community.

And there is more. I am glad I never did much that I should regret in Newbold. There are no haunting memories. On the contrary, there are so many sweet and happy memories which I have come back to. Just a couple of days ago when I arrived on campus, I needed something from a grocery store and I walked down to that tiny shop in Binfield as I wasn't well enough to go to Bracknell. And as I walked, a memory just hit me, as clear as anything - how we walked back from the same tiny shop with U. on the day I was to fly back home for summer, eating ice-cream and discussing life. I don't know where that memory came from, and I didn't quite know what to do with it. But it made me very thankful for all that time I had spent in this place, for all my friends and Waffle Wednesdays and what not that filled this place to brim with wonderful memories.

But some things aren't changed, of course. The caf is the same. The classes and long and evenings are packed with library and books, and at moments I do wonder why I would want to go through this pain once again. Dorm life is... eh, dorm life (we're sharing the dorm with about 100 screaming Brazilian kids who don't go to sleep until midnight while my classes start at 8 a.m). So I still have to do some adapting to college life. And yet, I know it's all worth it. My work and my life and my worries back home have, within a week, faded into vagueness, if I didn't have to reply to occasional emails (I have an article to write to the conference's magazine, a BA dissertation to supervise, a training seminar to prepare etc), I'd forget home even existed.

It is time for me to stop wasting my precious library time and get back to my book.

I miss my friends terribly tonight. J. and B. and J. and A. and L. and K. and S. and all the others. All I can do is to thank God for the time we had together.

4/25/2018

Academia seems to be doing a bit of a comeback in my life and I am very pleased with it. I don't want to say things had become stagnant but I was missing some sort of a forward momentum in my life and the solution has come from a place as unexpected as it is expected - the academic world.

I have kept quiet about it until now as I wasn't sure this thing was going to work out well but now it's safe for me to tell about it - I decided to apply for the Doctor of Ministry program which will start in Newbold this spring. It's actually Andrews University program but they're cooperating with Newbold and all the studying will take place here in Europe (which is good as I am not exactly the biggest fan of America). I agonised over this decision for a while but then decided to give it a go. I wasn't sure at all I would be accepted because I wrote the required essays while on sick leave in March which means their quality was far below my average. I was not in a good shape. And then followed 1,5 months of silence which in the end I interpreted as not being accepted. But late on Monday night I received a glorious accepteance letter from Andrews. Which means my first classes will start in Newbold in three weeks time. Whooooop! Just the thought of being back to Newbold campus - even for a couple of weeks at a time - makes my heart so very glad. And I know some of Newbold lecturers will be teaching me which will make the whole thing even more special to me. Dr A. N. will be teaching, for example. And she has been waiting for my acceptance letter with almost as eagerly as I have. I told her yesterday I will be sitting in the first row in the classroom when she's lecturing, a student as eager as she ever saw! I get shivers when I think of it. :)

It's time for me to go back to school.

And it's funny, now that I think of it. I will finish my own lecturing for Newbold on May 8th when my Greek students take their final exam. And I will be flying to Newbold as a student on May 18th. Tell me about perfect timing.

And another thing. I have been sort of picked up by a very interesting organisation called Christians for Biblical Equality. They will have an international conference in Helsinki this coming August and I understood they were looking for someone from the Adventist church who could present there. They asked our former Division president who has been advocating gender equality in our church for a long time, but he couldn't go. So somehow - not quite sure how - they ended up contacting me. And now I have been in touch with them over the past months and have been scheduled to speak at that conference in Helsinki. I know it's not difficult to Google people these days, and we all do it, but I was still a bit surprised when they discovered my Diversity Lecture which I gave in Newbold some three (!) years ago and which is up on YouTube. And that's all about gender issue (from a linguistic viewpoint but still). So now the president of CBE has asked to have a private dinner with me in Helsinki as she wants to discuss a possibility of my contribution to a book they are writing. Very gracefully I accepted her dinner invitation. :) Whatever the outcome, I will need to do some serious research and presentation writing when in Newbold. Again I have to admit that the timing is perfect - there's no way I could consider participating in such projects if I didn't have the access to Newbold library every now and then.

So things have got moving again and I am very excited. It's an academic comeback!

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Classical music has totally taken over. In my last singing class we watched Joice DiDonato with my teacher. Now this is on repeat.