by Frank Muller

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One of the most enchanting places we have visited is Stockholm, Sweden. It should not have been a surprise I suppose but to understand Stockholm one must first understand the water.

Stockholm sits anchored between hundreds of small islands and inlets each brimming with well-maintained weekend houses and of course a sailboat. This is a people and a city connected to the sea.

It is a quite common site to see these Scandinavians simply strip down and dive into the chilly water. They swim, play, and relax in the water just as comfortably as they sit down to enjoy “kaffedags” which one can loosely translate to “coffee time”.

However, coffee time and a swim in the Baltic are not activities but rather pleasant and patient experiences. This is a takeaway from our time in Sweden, that this culture prioritizes relationships and “being” and I for one found that intoxicating.

The purpose of this missive is not to explore the reasons behind this Nordic culture and people but rather to appreciate its’ unique beauty and to try and see what is often hidden by first impressions. This is a society that appears from a distance to be a monolithic Scandinavian country but upon visiting one is quickly struck at how easily the immigrant can slide into this relationship-based lifestyle.

We can a learn a lot from this culture about how to integrate architecture within nature, about how to mesh relationships with productivity, about how to organize a life around experiences.

The city is walkable, bikeable, drivable and mass transitable. It offers a never-ending prism of colors and places with each street somehow being different yet fitting appropriately within the confines of this city of nearly a million people.

The arts here are appreciated and respected, the traditions and history are honored but not glamorized. The monarchy exists but does so within the fabric of society much more so than in Merry old England. Stockholm is an icon for what an integrated city can look like. Taking the place into account and appreciating a culture that fits it is what draws us to travel the world.

So, is there a drawback to Stockholm? My short answer is that it is the same shortcoming we see throughout most of the developed world but here in a peculiarly paradoxical way. Despite the blessings of prosperity, the integration of architecture with place, the prioritization of relationships and living well there is still something missing.

What is missing in my mind is the mass awareness of the pervasive relativism and subjectivism that saturates the culture. In America it is said that Christianity is a mile wide, and an inch deep. In Sweden, it is an inch wide and a mile deep. This is the great paradox of Stockholm and Sweden.

In America we have individuals proclaiming, “their truth” but spend almost no time seeking objective “truth”. This is the cultural morass of America. It is precisely because of this that virtually all Americans know there is something profoundly wrong with us even as we tend to label this country as Christian. We are simply shallow and not well formed.

However, there is a small but distinct “holiness” movement in these Nordic countries. It is small, but deep and Truth seeking. It is the one country in Europe where the Catholic Church is growing (albeit from a small base).

Even as Protestantism in its’ empowerment of Gnosticism and private interpretation is faltering and shrinking under the unintended consequences of its’ own elevation of self. The natural consequence of this self-determination of Truth is the very cause and effect of relativism, subjectivism. liberalism, materialism, sensualism, nominalism, and pragmatism.

Just shop for the place where we like the truth being preached or sold and voila, we think we are satisfied. Alas, it is not so here in America. It is not so in Sweden either.

It is ironically in this Nordic country where these secular consequences are so clear yet soothed by the balm of culture, place and relationships which are all goods for sure that something is changing. Here the remnant is strengthening. Here Truth is being sought after ecumenically and ironically, it is the Lutherans in this country that cross the Tiber first and now the Muslims and the atheists, and of course it is the immigrant who sees most clearly what is missing in a culture.

This is what makes Stockholm such an interesting place to visit. The beauty of the Scandanavian people and their land in and by the sea. Their integration of architecture and culture into this place simply fits. The importance they place on “being”. All of these are the initial and beautiful first impressions.

And then, beneath this veneer is something more. Something growing. Something important. A people who has lived well the self-empowerment regime of private interpretation are becoming Truth seekers. They are small, but very deep. They are beginning to see that they are connected to the larger world and that there is a bigger thing to think and pray about it.

My view is that over the next 100 years one may become astonished that within this culture of relativistic nirvana may come a new culture of clear-eyed believers who will seek objective Truth that ultimately brings lasting happiness and a love for God and neighbor that will become more sacrificial and serving.

Somehow, someway, I believe the Fascist and Communist menace will ultimately come to see that within the confines of Europe, the Scandanavian is returning to the world and those former Vikings may be formidable in terms of strength of arms and more importantly in the moral and objective Truth.

In my book, I will take an inch wide and a mile deep person over a mile wide and inch deep person. This is the surprise of Stockholm and Scandanavia. Hard to find, but once found it is beautiful.

May Peace be with us all.

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