Inquiry on American Christianity vs. European Christianity

This is a question on the intersection of Christian praxis and culture specifically directed to my European brothers and sisters in Christ. I am quite curious what Christian expression looks like outside of my own American context and specifically how it differs from Christianity in a European context. It’s one thing to jump from one culture to another that is wildly different, like, say, from American to Nigerian culture, but actually I have difficulty understanding what being a more conservative Christian would be like even in other Western cultures such as a European culture. For example I just watched this video on what Dutch perceptions of Americans are.

The US is seen as very individualistic (supposedly because Americans don’t want to compromise or be seen as “average” – they have too much ambition perhaps); everything is “big” and/or spread out (big cars, big cities, big homes); very religious; overly polite (or “fake” as they say); everyone wants their own car (vs. say just biking); they eat too much; and they are “loud”. Or so goes the perception.

I learned a lot of these differences while preparing for my first trip to Germany by watching interviews like these. The interviewer here made two more videos with the exact same people: a sequel video on how the Dutch view themselves, and a third video on whether the Dutch prefer more of a socialistic or capitalistic society. Those who answered that they preferred more socialistic society critiqued America for their individualism, not wanting shared health care, and not wanting to share much of anything (like, say, living space, such as apartments, instead having your own home). The video on how the Dutch view themselves (Dutch vs. Dutch) had some interesting observations, like that it is generally encouraged to be “average” and not to stick out too much, though one woman (in the Dutch vs. Dutch interview) made an interesting comment that the Dutch can be quite judgmental and “Calvinistic” if they see something deviating from the norm.

In any case, this isn’t so much about the Dutch in particular as it is that citizens in other countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, etc. also have many of same sentiments and live similarly, from what I have been able to tell. And this isn’t so much about politics as it is cultural expression and how that shapes Christian expression in those respective countries.

I have grown up in a culture that often associates religious liberty with the American kind of individualism (freedom of speech, worship, and even combined occasionally with patriotism), what communal expression we do have is in the form of church potlucks and picnics (culturally speaking – even for nominal Christians – though real church communion runs deeper outside of official functions), and socialism is seen as a kind of a mindless conformity and attempt to discourage sticking your neck out. This is possibly why Americans are also seen as “religious” and “loud” because we don’t mind speaking our opinions aloud to others whereas it seems like this would be discouraged in European countries. Nonetheless modern Europe yet has the legacy of those like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who defy that perception.

And I realize that at least for Protestantism its very roots are in Europe, and American Christianity is only a more recent expression of Western Christianity in a particular culture, so I’m wondering comparatively what being a Christian in Europe is like on issues of individualism, speaking your thoughts or religious convictions aloud, whether people should be more similar (denser cities, bikes or public transportation, less individualistic, not sticking your neck out, being economically average), etc.

So I guess this can be converted into a question of how European Christians view American Christians and their way of life an cultural expression of their faith and how they conduct themselves as witnesses in society. Should Christians be less boisterous for example? How do European Christians deal with the ‘tolerance’ issue? I would enjoy your insights on some of those things.


Wisconsin: Land of Cheese, History, Outdoor Activities, and Fine Weather

The first few times that I visited Wisconsin I wouldn’t have described its wintery terrain as evidence of “fine weather”. But certainly for a southerner (I will discuss my status as a southerner a little more below) it was a land of “fun weather”, to see snow in amounts that was actually worth going out and playing in. Down south in the U.S. you just simply do not get knee-deep snow or frozen lakes in the winter, unless there is some history-making freak snow storm. The last such storm in Alabama that I remember was back in 1993 and I think we got 6 inches of snow or more, which was a lot to us (back then we were thinking “What? We can make MORE than one snow man this time without using every inch of snow in the front yard just to make one midget snowman? And we can even make one that isn’t a dirty ‘mud & grass’ snowman that we normally have since the snow isn’t shallow! Woohoo!”).

In Alabama you certainly wouldn’t have the experience of playing football on a frozen lake, much less of going four-wheeling on one; both of which I have done in Wisconsin on previous occasions. Wisconsin has been the manifestation of the proverbial “winter wonderland” for me in the past when I’ve visited, and therefore has always had a special and even exotic feel to it, attached to very fun and fond family memories. Thus recently I am so much more impressed upon making my first trip to Wisconsin in the early fall, in mid-September. I’ve been here for three days so far and the weather is a dream outside, worthy of wearing shorts and a t-shirt most the day, and has been in the high-60s to low 70s with a refreshing breeze outside. I found it humorous that certain of my cousins who have lived in Wisconsin most of their lives thought that the house was too cold today, but I was blissfully walking around in shorts all day. Since when is the southerner the only one who is not cold? Eh, I’ll chalk it up to the elevated amount of body fat from all that good southern cookin’.

Most of my trips have been to northern Wisconsin near Rice Lake, about an hour north of Eau Claire, to visit an aunt and uncle who live there. It just gets more and more beautiful with the increasing sight of evergreen trees and rolling hills the further north that you go. I honestly didn’t recognize it as I came up this last time because I had never seen Wisconsin without snow. Upon telling my uncle this he said that that was a 4-letter word around there. I think they are enjoying their fall just fine at the moment, so I settled on referring to it as “sner” instead. As we crossed from Illinois to Wisconsin I was thinking: “What’s up with all this verdant foliage and fine weather? This is Wisconsin?! Man, I’m loving it!”

Now for a brief historical digression on my north/south relationship:

My grandparents and their four boys (my dad being the oldest, and the uncle mentioned above the second oldest) all grew up in the north, mostly in Wisconsin. They lived near Beloit, WI for some time while my grandfather worked for the now-extinct Beloit Corporation. My grandfather became the co-owner and chief engineer of his own company by partnering with a German business partner who was from the founding family of Passavant-Werke in Germany, when together they bought off the engineering department of Beloit Corporation in Wisconsin. Passavant-Werke in part produced metalwork for various public city works throughout Germany (I actually saw manhole/drain covers with the name ‘Passavant’ stamped on them in Potsdam, outside of Berlin, and in Dresden when I visited Germany). While I have only been privy to certain details about the early history of how my grandfather’s company started (which was called Industrial Machine Division, IMD, at first and now Innovative Machine Corporation), as I understand it Beloit Corporation was originally a foundry for metal works (and apparently also was a producer of paper-making machinery), hence its business relationship with Germany’s Passavant-Werke which was in a similar industry. From IMC’s website it says this of the company’s history:

Innovative Machine Corporation was established in 1954 as Precise Engineering Company. In 1964 it became a division of Beloit Corporations (Industrial Machine Division) – (IMD) and later Passavant Corporation. In 1987 long term employees acquired the company and in 1999 the name changed to IMC (Innovative Machine Corporation). Our present facility was constructed in 1989.

All this is to say that sometime in the late 1970s the great, northern Nielsen family descended from the brisk hills of the land of cheese into temperate southern territory, not far south from the Tennessee Valley, by settling “the tribe” in Birmingham, AL (my birthplace) because the company was moved there. And so I can in some respects take upon myself the moniker “transplanted northerner” vicariously by virtue of my family moving mid-life down to Alabama from Wisconsin; although, I truly regard myself as a southerner with northern (and ultimately familial Scandinavian) roots.

On account of the “transplanted northerner” status I am sometimes told (about 75% of the time) that I do not have a southern accent (or alternately “You speak very clear for a southerner” like that’s not patronizing/stereotypical at all :-)), whereas occasionally some people I meet tell me that I do (about 25% of the time). I do not have the characteristic southern drawl that most people think of, although my pronunciation of some words may be influenced by it. I have been told, however, that you actually have to be a second generation resident of a region to fully adapt that region’s accent because first generational-ists, like myself, still have the influence of their parents’ accent from their native region. [I wonder if families of new immigrants to the U.S. have noticed this phenomenon as well]. So I have been exposed to a fair share of northern accent growing up along with southern accents, so I like to fancy that I have a good overall balance.

My eldest uncle (whose family I am visiting now in Wisconsin) was also dragged along down to the South with the rest of his siblings, but in the late 90s moved back up to his home state, which since has provided excuses and occasions for the rest of the family to visit periodically. So now all family visits are back-to-the-roots experiences. What intricate paths in life we take! I’m proud to have such a diverse family history and heritage not only within the U.S. but also from our Nordic roots. I dare say though that Wisconsin is more temperate than Norway, so my present enjoyment of amazing weather in Wisconsin might not have been a very common experience this time of year for my great, great, great grandparents in Norway!

But it is a fine occasion at present to be visiting Wisconsin – that land of cheese, history, outdoor activities, and fine weather! And did I mention beer? I visited the Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI for a taste testing of their different draft beers, and went just one week before Oktoberfest starts so they started breaking out the seasonal Oktoberfest beer there as well.

This time my whole family is up for my cousin’s wedding that is to take place in Eau Claire in order to celebrate his new life together with his wife and the continuation of the Nielsen line in Wisconsin! And what a great place and time of year to have it. It turns out that Wisconsin is a fine place to live, and it lays its claim as the region of my origins and of my cousin’s future. May there be many more happy memories made here!

Viva la Wisconsin!

A Rhyme For Your Time -or- A Bump On A Blog

So you made a blog.
But do you update it? No.
I expected so much more,
just say it ain’t so!
If you can’t think of an idea
at least you could rhyme.
And then checking your blog
wouldn’t be such a waste of my time!
You needn’t dig for gold
in a literary mine,
Please just write something
on which to opine.

Why yes, I think that idea sublime!
Your words toward me are much too kind.
Perhaps some inspiration I will find,
if my words with colorful thoughts are lined.
This page connects the world
of yours and of mine.
And although momentarily
the two become twine.
Even if you can’t read this
if perchance you are blind,
these words read aloud
might yet reach your beautiful mind!

So the next time I can’t think of something to log,
I’ll post a rhyme and not be such a bump on a blog!

by Josh Nielsen

Memories and Impressions of Deutschland

Well, I have now returned from my world travels to Deutschland and back! It was complete with exotic, strange, and exciting adventures like missing a plane in Frankfurt destined for Berlin and paying 250€ to rebook it, sitting on the floor of an older Austrian train from Berlin to Dresden because it was short by one car, having a great chuckle upon first encountering the sight of a “Bier Bike” in which beer drinkers peddle a portable bar counter on wheels down the street (steered by a sober and responsible individual I assume), standing atop the dizzying and breathtakingly beautiful heights of Dresden’s Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) looking down over the “Altstadt” (Old City) and the Elbe River from the top of the Protestant Church’s dome, cruising up the Spree River through downtown Berlin and passing by the Museuminsel (Museum Island) in a private boat, and seeing sailboaters ride out the wind on the Wahnsee in Berlin.

And that is not even to recount my adventures of standing in front of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum, seeing precious stones like amber, emeralds, and dazzling diamonds in Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), and seeing the world’s largest Reformation Memorial in Worms (the Lutherdenkmal) with statues of reformers like Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Peter Waldo,  Girolamo Savonarola, John Wycliffe, and Jan Huss! The trip was a blast!

<jk> Stay tuned for the release of the unforgettable movie next summer (I am currently in need of stunt doubles to reenact dangerous calorie-laden maneuvers like the bratwurst-chomp and the double-thick-swiss-hot-chocolate-gulp). I am currently accepting applications for a role in the film.</jk>

Overall the trip was definitely worth it just to see the beautiful sights and scenes around Germany. As is evident from Germany’s rather developed tourism industry Germany is quite aware of its history and loves to share bits of that history to anyone that would like to learn. The German people are also quite nice despite any perceptions to the contrary, although if you want to see an angry German I heartily recommend walking obliviously in the middle of the public bike paths like an idiot (I can check that one off my list). “Wait you mean that’s not a walking path there on the sidewalk?” The yelling and hand-waving directed at you will seem to indicate otherwise.

Also, as is likely on any first trip to a foreign country, there was some culture shock to be experienced. From reading history and art books I was no stranger to the fact that Europeans in general are fond of nude art and sculpture. However this did not prepare me for the unprecedented level of real “skin” that I saw in public advertising almost everywhere: rotating advertisement signs on every street corner (does Beyonce know that her picture can be found every 100m in Berlin?), posters, flyers tacked on bulletin boards, even book covers with clothless women on it. I saw more complete nudity than I wanted to (which unrealistically I suppose was ‘none at all’). Prostitution is legal in Germany as well, so there were advertisements for it in several of the cities I visited. To a good Southern and Christian man like myself it seems like nothing less than pure excess and sensuality. And yet this seems to be the norm over there. I am quite sure this will be the subject of my future prayers for our world’s culture, society, and future (I soon realized though that the U.S. in certain places like Los Angeles is not much different).

Aside from the culture shock though there were more good things to remember than anything else. I have already mentioned that Germans are quite nice. Of course I already knew that because I have German friends, but it was nice to find that most Germans you meet are friendly. Several were even nice enough to hold prolonged conversations with me in English since my German is limited to certain phrases and is far from fluent. I met a nice couple about my age from Cologne who were visiting Berlin on vacation (and happened to be in the biotechnology field like I am) and we had a pleasant conversation as we sat in sun chairs at the outdoor seating of a restaurant overlooking the Spree River.

Also on my train to Weimar, appealing most of all to my nerdy side, I had the great luck of sitting across from a German librarian (also about my age) who was completing his studies so that he could work full time for the German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) which has locations in Leipzig and Frankfurt. We talked nearly the whole two hour train ride from Dresden to Weimar on various topics revolving around German history, the Reformation, and yes even books. That train ride was just as memorable as the cities that I visited and I enjoyed the conversation greatly (and at least this time I was on a train that had more seats than people which meant I didn’t have to sit on the floor again).

I could go on and on about my trip but alas I must be content with a brief summary. I came back from Germany with a little over 4000 photographs in HiDef 1080P format, and several hours worth of video. Honestly sometimes the camera acted in lieu of my brain and I just let the camera do some the memorizing for me since it was so much to take in in so little time. So I’m sure as I sift through my pictures and videos over the next several weeks I will discover things I didn’t even stop to notice at the time, so I guess I got to bring back a little of my vacation with me in the form of media.

I also brought back souvenirs of dried honey from the Raps flowers that grow all over Germany (yum!), chocolate from Fassbender & Rausch in Berlin, a color stenciling of Dresden from across the Elbe looking into the Altstadt (old city) with a boat in the foreground (beautiful drawing!), and a foot-tall Knight Templar figurine sporting mail armor, a shield with the Templar red cross on it, as well as his trusty sword – which I got at the medieval Marksburg Castle. So I brought back plenty to remind me of my time spent there, and of course it will always live on in my memory! It was definitely worth the trip!


Meine erste Reise nach Deutschland!

Hallo Leute!

Nächste Freitag werde ich eine Reise nach Deutschland machen. Es wird mein erster Besuch sein. Ich werde zwei Wochen dort bleiben. Ich kann es kaum erwarten! Zuerst werde ich Berlin besuchen. Eine Freundin meiner Familie lebt in Deutschland, und ich werde sie in Berlin treffen. Während ich dort bin, werden wir auch Potsdam besuchen. Nach drei Tagen werden wir mit dem Zug nach Dresden fahren. Am nächsten Tag werden wir zu der Anna Amalia Bibliothek in Weimar gehen. Meine letzte Woche in Deutschland werde ich in Wiesbaden bleiben. Ich werde vielleicht auch nach Mainz gehen, um die Johannes Gutenberg Museum zu besuchen. Ich weiß, dass es Spaß machen wird!

If you are a native German speaker or are experienced in German please comment on my grammar. It can only help. 🙂

[Edit: Thanks to someone who gave me suggestions. I changed a few things.]

For the English speakers who feel left out because they have no idea what I just said, here is what I wrote (or, at least, intended to write) in German:

My first trip to Germany:

Hello everyone!

Next Friday I will be making a trip to Germany. It will be my first time to visit. I will stay there for two weeks. I can hardly wait! First, I will visit Berlin. A friend of my family lives in Germany, and I will meet her in Berlin. While I am there, we will also visit Potsdam. After three days then we will take a train to Dresden. The next day we will go to the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar. My last week in Germany I will stay in Wiesbaden. I might also go to Mainz to visit the Johann Gutenberg Museum. I know that it is going to be fun!


And perhaps I may somewhat tongue-in-cheek sign off with: Auf Weiderlesen!

Introducing Myself as Language Lover & Culture Explorer

Hello World,

I am a Computer Scientist (more specifically a Systems Administrator) by trade but also a language lover to the core, and I am always thinking on topics relating to words, writing, and their connection to life and culture. I have been particularly enthralled for quite a while with Germanic languages (including my own ancestral Scandinavian) and also ancient Hebrew and Greek. It is however particularly sad to say that three semesters of taking Spanish classes did not accomplish much in helping me to learn that language. That’s a language for the back-burner, at least for now, until I can lick my wounds.  Although partially limited to what interests I have on the immediate horizon, who knows what other languages my palate will expand to include in the future.

My brain, since at least my teeneage years, has seemed rather geared toward investigating languages and associating language with historical and cultural things of interest. There is hardly a week that goes by without there being an occurrence of some word, spoken or thought, jump-starting my brain into trying to parse it and determine its origin, meaning, and etymology. I will often try to find cognates of words in other languages and determine if there is a common usage or meaning.

Since we think and speak by means of words and language I figure that I might as well dive as deep as I can to discover what riches our words might reveal as they have been used throughout history. This often becomes a point of interest as well when one tries to understand or translate a historical piece of literature into another language, from which we are perhaps significantly removed in culture and time, within the context of our modern day world. The more that we explore language the better we may become at discovering such writings’ original meaning and intent.

My initial love for the Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew became significantly broadened when I saw in person very early fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls written with the paleo-Hebrew script and early New Testament Greek papyrus fragments from the 2nd century. Along with that, my existing love for exploring and parsing my own native language of English (which explains why I love playing Scrabble so much) was fueled when I had the opportunity to connect it far back into the past when I saw some of the world’s oldest English Bibles on exhibit. Some of those Bibles dated back to the time of John Wycliffe in the 14th century (the age of Middle English and Chaucer) when books still had to be written by hand since the Gutenberg printing press was still almost 100 years away from being invented. I have even seen a full size model of the Gutenberg printing press itself, which gave me a greater appreciation for the printed book. Read more