So, it’s been a year, and I am mostly acclimated and settled in. Thank you for all of the cards, notes, and letters expresssing concern.
I know my way around. I have figured out the trains, trams, buses, ferries, and boats (though not without some early trial and error). I have been to both a Swiss doctor and a Swiss dentist. I can buy groceries and get a haircut. When a letter arrives with words like ‘Achtung!’ on the outside of the envelope, I no longer think that I am in immediate danger of deportation. Those omninous-looking mailings we receive are usually just friendly greetings from the local government, asking why we haven’t done something that EVERY OTHER RESIDENT has already done on time.
And it has been several months since I have been fined for driving too fast.
For all of that I am more grateful can I say. It helps of course that I had several hundred friends to greet me on arrival and ask me about my every need. Not every expat, I realize, can say that. Also, Switzerland is not Somalia. It is a highly-developed western country with one of the best transportation systems in the world. The views are gorgeous in every direction. It is clean and safe. The health care is among the best in the world. And that’s the just the beginning. I don’t want to bore you.
If you move to Switzerland and fail to thrive, then … you are a complete failure as a human being and should never have tried expat life. (See, I am learning to think like a Swiss.)
However, being acclimated and settled in doesn’t mean that I know everything I need to know. My language skills, for example, still leave a lot to be desired. I can read German fairly well, but my conversational skills are sadly lacking. The young woman who cut my hair this morning tried to be helpful by saying, ‘Do you want me to speak German or English?’ I can assure you that Mike at the barbershop back in Fort Lauderdale never posed a question like that. (But I still love you, Mike.)
More important than langauge skills is the matter of living and working, as I do each day, in a multicultural setting. I have mentioned previously that only one member of my church’s Council (or leadership board) was born in the U.S., but the differences are more numerous (and often more subtle) than that. Some days the differences are mind-boggling and overwhelming.
What I take for granted in my preaching and pastoral care, skills I have labored for more than 30 years to perfect and sharpen, can no longer be taken for granted. I am not only learning to speak the language of my village and canton, as I mentioned, but I am also learning to speak the spiritual language of my congregation. When believers come together from so many different continents, when they have been trained and discipled in the faith by such a wide variety of Christian teachers, when their worship experiences are as varied as they are, being a pastor of this congregation has an exceedingly high degree of difficulty.
Some days my head hurts.
I remember saying in the interview process that I know who I am. And that’s still true. My Christian (and pastoral) identity has been shaped and formed over a very long period of time. I have had one of the most thorough Christian educations (beginning with my parents and my Kindergarten Sunday School teacher) it is possible for one person to have, but nothing could have adequately prepared me for this church, this experience, this time in my life.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus right now, right here, at this moment in history? I will keep you posted.
(Photo: That’s the village of Meilen where I live.)