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There Is neither Norwegian nor Swede

My earliest memories are of northern Minnesota—Roseau, to be specific—where my family lived for three years until we moved when I was five years old, just in time fo me to start kindergarten in South Dakota. I don’t have a lot of memories of that time, but other than a couple of very vague summer scenes, they are dominated by armpit-deep snow (on a kid my age) and ice. I think I remember the city pool, but I know I remember sleds, skis, and skates. If we had stayed there, I most certainly would have failed at hockey, instead of every other team sport I tried.

imageWhat I remember most is the church, and her Holy Sacraments. No, not those; I mean strong coffee, lefse, and a multitude of other Scandinavian delicacies, consumed in church basements loud with the brogues of Lutherans with names ending in -berg, -quist, -dahl, and -son (or -sen). The industries (in my limited memory) were dairy farms and the Polaris snowmobile factory.

The move to South Dakota brought a few changes: The industries were cattle and sheep ranching, livestock sales—Faith Area News is brought to you by the Faith Livestock Commission Company . . .—and . . . [thinking] . . . ranching; I proudly wore my first cowboy boots and hat, with a wide, rather gaudily-tooled belt, big shiny buckle, and bolo tie. (my parents were surprised to learn that everyone dressed that way, not just kids playing cowboys and Indians Native Americans). Entertainment was rodeo and an occasional pow-wow. There was still plenty of snow and sledding, but no hockey, and skating was on Durkee Lake, three miles out of town, rather than an indoor rink.

The church was much the same, though not quite as thick with lutefisk (I fear they were on the downgrade). I fondly remember an elderly widow that everyone called “Tante” (Aunt). There were a few new Scandinavian name variations (e.g., -ness), but the krumkake was still sweet and the coffee still strong.

Eight years later, we moved to Montana. More cowboys, more rodeos, more Scandinavian Lutherans (-vold, -lee).

My maternal grandmother was of British stock, her family having been here since before the evolution (there are both loyalists and revolutionaries in her family tree, for which I blame my occasional indecisiveness). My other three grandparents were either Norwegian immigrants or the children of immigrants. I have aunts and uncles, and even a few cousins, whose accents could almost fit an Ole and Lena joke. There is lutefisk in my veins, I tell you.

This was my culture, in which my ethnicity played a defining role.

Then I grew up, got married, and eventually moved to North Dakota. Certainly, there are many Scandinavians in North Dakota, and even in this community, but if there is a majority, I think it would be Germans from Russia. They are distinguished from other ethnic Germans by their origins, accents (more like Scandinavian than German, in my opinion), and food (which seems to consist mostly of dough and grease).

Innate German orneriness aside, these are, in my experience, generally nice people. We have lived and worshipped with them for twenty-three years now, and our ethnicity has never been an issue. It is only occasionally mentioned. It is as though nobody cares. We certainly receive no special consideration, in the community or the church. Where we once feasted on lutefisk and meatballs, we now get knoephla (pretty good) and fleischkuekle (you don’t want to know). And the coffee is weak. We, of course, are free to bring whatever we want, as well without regard for their preferences. Therefore, we are all represented, though some more than others. Our ethnicity has little bearing on our relations with others–and this is fine.

In church, that is, the worship service and other programs, it gets no traction at all. In fairness, neither does the Russlanddeutsche-ness of our friends. We hear an occasional Greek or Hebrew word here and there, but no one ever sings ”O Store Gud.“ When the gospel is preached and the ordinances observed, there is not a whiff of ethnic recognition, for us, or any other minority. We go about it as though we were all the same. Our ethnicity simply has no bearing on our place in the church. We are all treated alike. Until recently, I have been just fine with this. In fact, if I had thought about it at all, I would have thought it was a good thing.

But then, I read this:

If by “color blind” we mean that a person’s ethnicity has no meaning or legitimacy inside the church, in redemptive history, or in the practice of the church’s ordinances, then we have effectively defined away that person.

Well, this was quite disturbing. Have we been “defined away?” Has everyone in our church been “defined away?” As a white male, I know I can never hope to be truly woke, but can I at least get a clue? Oh! the sleep I have lost over this.

But then, I read this:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. —Galatians 3:26–29

What a relief! I haven’t been “defined away,” I’ve been redefined. Though my ethnicity remains—just as Jews remain Jews and Greeks remain Greeks—in the church, in redemptive history, in the practice of the church’s ordinances, that has no relevance. In the church, I am not set apart from others as Norwegian-American, I am joined together with them as Christian.

This seems to me to be good news that should increase unity in brotherly love, not cause division. But then, I am not woke.

Posted 2019·03·11 by David Kjos
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