A Visit Home

by Tommy Carlson

From time to time we all need to "go back home" and check out our roots — that special place that had been such an important part of our lives — and, perhaps, continues to be. But not just the place, also the people who were an important part of our formative years. It was my privilege this past summer to journey home to renew my connections with relatives and friends. From Skåne to Uppsala to Gästrikland and Hälsingland, I had the opportunity to return in a variety of ways. Perhaps the two events that had special impact on me were two plays about two very different people who not only had an impact on life in Sweden but also on life in the USA and the world.

The first play, "Drömmannas Barn" (The Children of Dreams) was written by Margareta Ekarv for the Gävleborgs Folk Theatre. It deals with the lives of Erik Jansson and his followers. Jansson, the revival lay preacher, came to Hälsingland in the 1840s and began to preach, even though it was against the law to do so. The Edict of 1726 was still in effect, which meant that the church had the exclusive right to religion. After several years of persecution, he organized the first massive emigration to America. Their destination was what is now known as Galva, Illinois and specifically as Bishop Hill (named after Biskopskulla in Uppland where Erik Jansson was born. Margareta Ekarv wrote the play in prose and the actors said the lines singly, in twos, or in unison, weaving the fabric of the play back and forth among themselves. It was an incredible evening. When the play was over one did not realize that almost two hours had passed. I quote from the introduction to the play:

What would we be without our dreams! Not just the dreams
down there in the deep night of sleep.
No the dreams that keep us alive, that which causes us to
long for and wait for tomorrow. The next day and the next,
and the future when everything will be better.
When everything will happen, everything will be realized.
But it is on this earth where it will happen.
Nothing is impossible, we can do that which we want,
No one shall believe that we shall stop.
Why do you want to stop us?
Why are you so afraid?
We can build our house of dreams and you cm build yours.
Call it a castle in the air or madness. But do not stop us.
If you cannot produce any houses, do not accuse us!
If you do not have any dreams, do not wake us!
For we are already awake, we are on the way.
Where are you?

The second play I was privileged to see was about the late churchman, theologian, and Archbishop, Natan Söderblom. The setting of the play was the courtyard of the parsonage in Trönö, Hälsingland where N.S. was born. His father was the parish priest there and had a strong influence on the revival movement of the early 1800s.

Natan's mother, Sofie, was a gentle, kind spirit. The influence of both his parents served Natan well wherever he ministered: in Uppsala, as a student, in Paris as a Pastor to the Swedish artistic colony and seamen, and, from 1914 to his death in 1931, as Archbishop of Sweden. By his many contacts with church leaders from all over the world and by his efforts to get church leaders and people to talk to each other and to work together for God's kingdom, he organized, in 1925, an ecumenical conference that was held in Stockhom. Because of his personality and drive, he was able to gather church men and women from nations that had, but a few short years before, been at war with each other. For that effort he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930.

There is so much more to say about Natan, his family, and his life that we will, perhaps, devote future issues of Pietisten to that discussion. Needless to say, the play was a powerful sermon and it provided a view of how God uses people for God's kingdom here on earth. The connection people have is that we are, first, people of faith and, second, or even further down the list, people of nations. Let the words from Luke 17:10, which are engraved on Söderblom's gravestone in Uppsala Cathedral, also be our call: "So with you, when you have done all you have been told to do, say 'We are merely servants; we have done no more than our duty.' "

The connections continue and they are beyond national origin or preference. That is perhaps where they start, but they continue because as people of faith we have a common story which we like to share with each other and with those outside the family of faith. That being said, it was GOOD to be in Sweden this summer!