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Swans, Drunks, and Bicycles

Sometimes when I sit down to update the blog, a very clear idea has formed in my mind and it's just a matter of articulating it.

This is not one of those posts. Instead, I will share three stories that have taken place over this past month in hopes their articulation will be both gratifying for you, the reader, and clarifying for me.

The Swan Kidnapping

First, here's about half a minute of awesome for your enjoyment:

I saw perhaps one of the most traumatic things I can recall last week. I was in a student kitchen on the second floor of the resident hall making french fries for my student leaders when one of the students shouted, "Look! That guy is taking one of the babies!"

To give some context, LCC has a pond on its campus and a beautiful swan couple have made it their home at least as long as we've been here. This summer, they had 10 cygnets (baby swans), which have become the subject of adoration for both those in and around the LCC campus.

They are really stinkin' cute.

I rushed to the window in time to see, on the other end of campus, one of the almost-full-sized cygnets thrashing about under a man's arm. The man was also kicking at the mama swan to keep her away as she tried to get to her baby. And there was a lady (with her own child in tow) from the surrounding community who seemed to be yelling at the man.

I watched helplessly as the man carried the cygnet out of view and my mind filled with the angriest, most condemning thoughts you can imagine.

For the next few days, people talked about this. Speculation half-jokingly led to the assumption this guy had been waiting for the swans to grow to full size because he fancied a tasty meal.

Riding bike to and from my office took me by the pond each day and I would catch myself counting the swans. Maybe I hoped the kidnapping was all just in my imagination. Or maybe I just couldn't believe someone would have audacity to do that to our community. It just felt so...evil.

Church at the Bar

A handful of times each year, a local church* has an event called "Church at the Bar," which Alisha and I eagerly participate in. As it takes place Sunday mornings, though, there often aren't actually many people from outside the church's community present.

This last Sunday was a very different experience.

The format of the service is simple: anyone who wants can sign up on a paper to share a song, story, scripture, reflection -- really anything you want -- that would speak to the morning's theme. Alisha and I usually sing a couple songs and people seem to appreciate that, even though it's a Lithuanian-speaking church.

The theme for the morning centered around Matthew 5:13-16 -- being salt and light in the world. So we sang "Light" by The Haymarket Squares and "You Are Salt for the Earth" by Marty Haugen. And then some bar patrons joined us (maybe it was our singing?). Even though it was late morning, they were already pretty sloppy...but they were also engaged and started responding to what people were saying.

As my Lithuanian skills are terrible, I did my best to read body language and I could tell there was some tension in what was being said. Eventually, they left.

Afterwards, I asked one of the church's English-speakers what was going on. She told me the "outsiders" wanted to know concrete examples of what those at the church were doing to be "Salt for the Earth." To the examples provided, such as, "I help old grandmothers cross the street," they would respond, "I also do those things. So does that make me Salt?"

What a piercing thing to say! It kind of reminds me of the prophetic voices in the Hebrew Bible.

Unfortunately, it seems the response from some of the church members was to dismiss the outsiders and become defensive. Perhaps this was because they were drunk.
* My intention is not to single out a specific community or point a finger of condemnation, so I am choosing to leave the church's name out. And, if we're honest with ourselves, this could happen at any church!

Scandalous Bicycles

One thing that's great about living in Klaipeda is how practical it is to own and ride a bicycle. Alisha and I go everywhere on two wheels as long as the weather allows us and I probably have a big goofy grin on my face the majority of the time. I love it!

Moving off campus has made our bicycles an even more prominent part of our lives. They're how we get to work. They're how we get to friends' houses. I understand what H. G. Wells meant when he said, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

So it came to a surprise to me when I learned our tools of righteous living were allegedly causing pain and hardship in the lives of our new neighbors.

We came home from work one day and I think we had taken the bus because it was raining. When we entered the stairwell that led to our flat, there were signs posted and tucked into the spokes of our bicycles. As they were in Lithuanian, I asked our flatmate what they were about.

"Oh. Those," she said. "Yeah, there was one on my bike, too. It seems someone doesn't like how we are storing them."

"What does it say?" I asked.

"I'm not going to translate the whole thing because it's pretty ridiculous," she said. "A passive-aggressive note is the same in every language."

What is and is not OK as far as storing one's bicycle seems to be a cultural gray-area in Lithuania. From what I've observed, bicycles are chained to anything that's fastened down everywhere you go and, as long as they don't impede foot traffic, nobody seems to mind.

The previous tenant had fastened her bike in the entryway and we had seen it done by others from the building, so we followed suit. It's much easier than hauling them up three flights of stairs to our apartment or putting them in the basement (imagine the opening sequence of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark). And we had always made sure we were keeping the walkway as open as possible.

The letter mentioned things like "the need to pass through them as if through an obstacle course" and our bikes "knocking their arms and legs and sides" and the "dirt on the wheels is vandalism to the building."

As new neighbors, these are actually things that I was very concerned about when we first moved in, so we waited until after we saw another tenant lock up her bike in the stairwell to do the same with ours.
The culprits (a.k.a. "Evil Incarnate")
Our landlord told us not to worry about it -- that there was a tenant in the building who is always unhappy about something -- and that we are not doing anything wrong.

But the letter continues to be posted in the hallway and folded neatly into the spokes of our bicycles. And the last time, it was Google Translated into English.


I've been training myself to see Missio Dei more clearly in my daily life -- asking, "Where is God moving?"

I stopped writing each of the above stories at the point where this became clear to me. And, reading the conclusions below, I think I can see some common themes.

The Swan Kidnapping (pt. 2)

When the man took the baby swan, a few students ran after him. It took several days for this to make it back to me and Alisha, but apparently a fisherman had caught his hook on the cygnet and the man was taking the injured baby to the vet's office.

Let that sink in: This man was probably saving the creature's life!

I know I'm not the only one who needs to work on viewing my brothers and sisters in the world with a light of hope rather than despair and condemnation.

Church at the Bar (pt. 2)

There was a voice from within the church that responded to the drunken "outsiders," but it was directed back at the congregation and, while the voice was young and shy, it was poignant.

"Who do you struggle to love?"

There was silence. Because, in an instance, everyone seemed to realize being Salt and Light in the world meant viewing each person as a beloved child of God. And maybe they hadn't done that.

Bob Marley asked, "How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?"

On that day, perhaps the "prophet's message" was spared. It's a start!

Scandalous Bicycles (pt. 2)

I wish I could put a bow on this story like the other two but, unfortunately, the world is much messier than that.

Jesus asks us to love our enemies and I love sharing that with others. But it's hard when you have to find ways of doing that yourself. It requires creativity and patience and energy and humility and time...all things I tend to squander for myself.

But we, Alisha and I, have resolved to take that route. Alisha already baked a delicious cinnamon nut bread that will be making its way to our neighbor's apartment soon and hopefully we'll be able to meet her in the next day or two.

Will everything end well? Who knows. But we aren't asked to see that everything ends well -- just to simply love everyone we meet -- even the difficult folks.