Alt for Norge – Challenge 1 – Lom

The day of the first challenge was sunny and beautiful. As usual, the mamas told us what to wear – which that day was our wind pants, warm jackets, and either a red, blue, or white hat they had given us to show which team we were on. I was to be on the red team with Brandon, Kent, and Candice. We were the first team to be filmed that day, and as usual, the setup for filming took forever. We hung out about 200 feet from the filming location and we could see that a small course had been set up in front of the Stave Kirke. Finally, the director came to tell us the rules of the first challenge. We were not allowed to run. We had to stay together. At each “station” there would be a puzzle to solve. Once we had come to an answer as a group, we would grab the puzzle piece we thought was correct and go on to the next station. After all the stations, we would try to put the puzzle pieces together and if they fit, we were done. If they did not fit, we had to figure out where we had gone wrong and fix it. Meanwhile, we would be timed. The team with the slowest time would be in danger of being eliminated.

We knew that this challenge would be testing what we already knew about Norway. I knew a few things from my upbringing and some studying I had done before I came – but I had no idea what kinds of information they would be wanting! I just had to hope and pray I had some knowledge that would be helpful to my team.

The first station turned out to be easy – it asked questions about the Norwegian National anthem, locations in Oslo, and government. I knew all the answers at this station.

The next station asked “what was typical Norwegian.” We agreed on an answer that I thought was very good and I felt confident of our answer.

The third station had locations and we were to guess which were Norwegian. This one, I had no idea. We just guessed.

The fourth station was on a bus and the bus driver asked us “Where would the Norwegian sit?” There were puzzle pieces scattered throughout the bus.We all agreed that the Norwegian would sit alone. But the question came down to whether the Norwegian would sit by the window alone or sit on the aisle seat alone. I immediately decided the aisle seat was right and grabbed that piece. Everyone knows that if you don’t want anyone to sit by you, you sit on the aisle seat!  (I thought this station was really cool. The answer to this was so natural. I felt like I had been studying for this challenge my whole life).

We speed-walked to the place where we were to put our puzzle together and found that we had three of the four pieces correct, as we suspected. We went back and got another puzzle piece from the location station and fortunately, we guessed correctly this time. We were done!

As we walked back to the room where the other teams were, we decided to look really downcast – like we thought we hadn’t done well at all.  However, we all felt really great about how quickly we completed the course.

Once the challenge got started, it didn’t take long until all the teams were done and we were being interviewed individually again. Four different times I was interviewed about how I felt I had done and how our team had done. Finally, they brought us all together for the results.

It felt as ridiculous and exciting as I imagined it would – to be there with the cameras trained on us and waiting for the results. I had so much fun doing the challenge and I was pretty confident we had won. Other teams would have had to do it perfectly to have beaten us since we only made one error. Candice was standing next to me and she was so nervous – her breathing was getting heavier and heavier as Henriette slowly began to announce who had come in last place, then third place. Finally, it was down to us and one other team.

“The winner for today’s challenge is, Team Red!”

It was pretty cool!  We cheered! We shouted!  We rejoiced! We embraced! Oh sweet victory! And we knew none of us on our team would be the dreaded first person to go home. I was so glad about that and so glad that I contributed to the victory.

It became very clear that day that this competition was anyone’s to win. It all depended on what kinds of challenges came your way and who your teammates were. We were all smart and capable and gifted in our own ways.The challenges were very fair. Only time would tell how long any of us would be there. But that day – I was really happy to have tasted victory and to be able to not even worry about the next challenge because our victory had ensured we didn’t even have to compete in the next round.

That night we ate supper with the crew and celebrated that the first episode was now complete. The next day we would journey to a new place and another new episode of Alt for Norge.

Hygge ( HEW-gə or HOO-gə) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. Check out the book by clicking on the picture.

Alt for Norge – Lom

The night on the mountain was so very long. I don’t think I really slept at all. I needed to go to the bathroom all night but I wasn’t about to leave the shelter of our tent to go out into the blowing snow. I was freezing as it was! Marshell kept getting up to put wood in our little stove that seemed to emanate very little heat. I was so thankful she did because I felt frozen in place and just longed for morning to come. Finally, daylight came and along with it came the cameras. Of course, they wanted to get us on film first thing in the morning. I was not in the mood but I plastered on my smile and got ready to greet the day. As they were filming us talking about how poorly we slept, our tent began to blow over. We hustled to get our stuff together and our snowsuits on and then they put all of us in another tent while they filmed for a couple more hours. It seemed interminable.

Finally, they put us on snowmobiles and sleds to go down the mountain. This was pretty cool – I kept thinking about how my nephews, who are snowmobile aficionodos, would have loved to be there in that moment. It was seriously beautiful zipping down the mountainside on the back of that snowmobile.

Before we knew it, we were at a small resort where apparently the camera crew had stayed overnight. There was a breakfast buffet and then they loaded us onto a bus to go somewhere else. After no sleep and no time to even brush my hair, I felt zero readiness to be on camera again, but I was finding out that my readiness had little to do with my circumstance when it came to reality television. I knew I just needed to smile and go with it.

They filmed us on the bus a bit and then we pulled into a town called Lom where we parked in a parking lot and did some more filming. Henriette taught us a Norwegian phrase or two and we were to try to repeat it. Then, it was lunch time and after that they divided us into small groups in which we were to go around Lom and talk to the locals. Brandon and I were paired together and I put on my extrovert face as we walked into a grocery store and tried to strike up conversations with patrons. Then, we went over to the Stave church in Lom. I asked if we could go over there when we were walking around the city with the director but I hadn’t realized they planned all along for us to go there. Brandon and I went into the Stave church and a woman gave us a tour. They filmed us there for quite a while and it was very moving to finally be in one of those old Stave churches. It was gorgeous.

Finally, the day was done and we could all go shower and get ready for supper. The next day we would be filming our first real challenge on Alt for Norge!

Like a Mustard Seed…

At the church I served in Texas, we lived about seven miles out in the country. Out my kitchen window I could see the parish hall of the church about fifty paces to the east. A rock fence, painstakingly put in place by the first Norwegian settlers surrounded the perimeter of the church and cemetery. Over the years, parishioners and former pastors had planted all sorts of beautiful trees and flowering shrubs on the church property. There were two pear trees to the north of our house, two beautiful mimosa trees in the front yard – the boys loved to climb those – grape vines, climbing roses, and honeysuckle wound their way around our front gate, and directly outside our back door, there were two mulberry trees. Once I found out what they were, I wondered if some former pastor had planted them with a chuckle, like if he wondered if someday some pastor who followed him would look out their kitchen window now and then and see those trees and remember the verse from Luke in our gospel today and say out loud to the tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea…” just to see if anything might come of it that day. I admit I did it a few times.

In today’s gospel, the disciples ask for more faith. We, like the disciples, like the idea of more faith. Often we feel like that would be a good answer to times of trouble or doubt – if we just had more faith we would be better off or at least feel better, right?

What is faith? In Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, he talks about four different meanings of the word “Faith.”  He refers to them by their Latin names and they are the primary meanings of the word faith throughout Christianity. 

The first meaning of faith is referred to by the Latin word, “assensus”.  Its closest meaning is assent – and this is faith being synonymous with “belief.”  This is the predominant meaning of faith in modern culture. 

There are two main reasons it is the prominent meaning in modern Western Christianity.  The first is the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation produced many new denominations – each defined itself by their distinctive doctrines or confessions.  Lutherans believed certain things, Catholics believed certain things, etc.  Of course, some things overlapped – but it was during this time that Christian faith became about believing right things – having the “right” beliefs instead of “wrong” beliefs.

The second development happened in the Enlightenment when truth was identified with what was factual.  And over time, for many, Christian faith began to mean believing questionable things to be true.  Faith is what you turn to when knowledge has run out. 

While thinking of faith as belief is certainly valid in many ways, the difficulty is then we think if we have doubts, we don’t have much faith. 

A Carmelite nun who was the mother superior of a cloistered convent was interviewed. The interviewer asked her what was the hardest thing about her job. 

“I thought she was going to say the hours were terrible or the food was bad,” he said.  “Instead she said the hardest part of her job is the doubt.” She says she has great doubt – she struggles with it every day.

As Marcus Borg says, “When you think about it, faith simply as belief is relatively powerless.  You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage.  You can believe all the right things and still be miserable.  (Understanding faith to be simply) Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.”

The second form of faith is expressed in the Latin word, “Fiducia.”  Fiducia is a radical trust in God.  Not trusting a set of statements about God – but trusting in God.

Soren Kierkegaard describes it like this – “Faith as trust is like floating in a deep ocean.  If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink.  But if you will relax and trust, you will float.

This is the kind of faith we display whenever we take a leap of faith – to go where God calls even when it seems to make no sense, to live the way Jesus teaches us even when it is contrary to everything the world will tell us.  It is doing the scary, uncomfortable, upsetting, often disturbing thing – but knowing God is big enough to catch us if we fall.

The third face of faith is known by the term “Fidelitas.” Fidelitas is fidelity, loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at the deepest level, the commitment of the heart.  It isn’t faithfulness to statements about God – it is faithfulness to God. 

Fidelitas is like this – we may not always feel God’s presence, yet we continue to come to worship.  We may not understand the mystery of the sacraments, yet we share in them because Jesus asked us to do so.  We may have questions galore about faith – yet we continue to turn to Jesus with our asking and seeking and knocking.  Faith as fidelitas isn’t swerved by the winds of emotion.  It is steady. 

Fourth, there is Faith as Visio.  Faith as a way of seeing.  We share God’s worldview and compassion for others. Our faith is expressed in sharing Jesus all-encompassing love.

So faith has many shapes and forms: belief, trust, commitment, vision. In the Gospel today, Jesus shows that it’s not the size of our faith that matters, because God is able to do a lot with even the tiniest bit of faith. Even though our faith is small, the One in whom we have faith is magnificent and all-powerful.

In verses 7-10, after Jesus talks about the mustard seed, he mentions that when a slave comes in from the field, the slave then serves the master before the slave himself eats. What is this all about? Well, servants aren’t invited to the table with the landowner; they eat when their work is done. They don’t expect thanks for doing their job; they just do it. That’s what faith is like, Jesus seems to say –the willingness to do what needs to be done. The people Jesus called faithful were not illustrious or noteworthy – a centurion concerned for a sick servant, a woman who was grateful for being forgiven, a leper who turns around just to say “thank you”, the blind beggar who asked Jesus for sight – these were the people Jesus called, “faithful.”

Faith is found not in the mighty acts of heaven but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.

Do you realize, people of God, all the ways you show faith? In small and great ways each day, you display it. When you show up for worship. When you bring a can of food for the food shelf, when you arrive at your job each morning and do your work honestly and to the best of your ability, when you take care of the family God has entrusted to you, when you honor your parents by listening to them and doing your chores, when you pray for your neighbor who is going through a hard time, when you send the condolence card, when you show up to vote even when you feel the field of candidates is discouraging.

We may tend to dismiss all the small acts of faith and wonder what good they really do. But imagine if none of these small acts of faithfulness that each us did this last week had never happened. Life and faith – it’s made up of all the small things, ordinary things. God blesses the ordinary, small things. Even as small as a mustard seed.